You never quite know what to expect from director Olivier Assayas. Before Demonlover (2002) his previous films diverged from the classically styled epic costume drama Les Destinees, to a multiple character piece about maturing in Late August, Early September, and, for which he is best known, the movie-of-a-movie Irma Vep. Demonlover presents Assayas delving into yet another genre, the corporate techno-thriller.
Set in its own cold universe of corporate spying, profitable debauchery, and convoluted alliances, Demonlover begins with Diane (Connie Nielsen), a raising player in the French corporation VolfGroup, drugging her associate and having the executive kidnaped, thus putting a halt on an upcoming deal and ensuring Diane the means to takeover the contract. The deal involves the Japanese firm TokyoAnime, which is developing a new form of 3-D anime that could revolutionize the business.
As she double deals and schemes, Diane has to guard her back at every turn, be it from VolfGroup secretary Elise (Chloe Sevigny) or her partner/sometimes lover Herve (Charles Berling). Things get even more mired and risky when the firm opens negotiations with demonlover.com, the worlds primary anime distributor and chief internet sex site owner, including a "very hard to access, but very profitable" rape/torture site called the Hellfire Club.
The film is actually hard to describe, both in terms of its subversive vagueness and because it takes a plot turn that, if revealed, could ruin the third act as well as the films most tense sequence. Suffice to say, Diane is actually a double agent working for another firm, infiltrating VolfGroup with the sole purpose of undermining their deals with TokyoAnime and demonlover.com. Her initial power play works until a run in with demonlover.com's US liaison (Gina Gershon), and eventually Diane becomes the puppet instead of the one pulling all the strings.
Demonlover is clearly set in this alternate world, one where a porn site of women being abused and unwillingly tortured is looked upon as big business and morally justified due purely due to its supply and demand. It isn't very hard to imagine Diane doing business with Max Renn from Videodrome. The sense of this fictional world is clearly established in the opening scene where the airplanes television monitors, instead of playing the latest Hollywood c-grade family fare, are playing seemingly random clips of a man engulfed in flame. Thus this world of the disconnected and desensitized is suggested, so it is the kind of environment where an illegal torture site could be a billion dollar acquisition.
Unfortunately Assayas has hinged the film too much on notions rather than solid ideas. For most viewers, the loose structure and vagueness will amount to a bit more confusion rather than intriguing mystery. Sure, there are a few surprising twists, ones that will stun and grab you, but overall it is a bit too free form and ultimately emotionally flat because there is so much shady business and guarded personal motivations going on that you can never connect with a character enough to give a damn.
From a directing standpoint, the film is beautiful, but the lack of a solid structure is apparent even by a few brief, inconsequential snippets that serve no purpose other than they look pretty and they bridge to the next scene. In a funny way, it reminded me of Roger Vadim, another director who could deliver some of the most aesthetically pleasing films that were absolutely hollow otherwise. Likewise here, where Assays makes his actresses look impeccably gorgeous and the locales clean and eye catching, but deep down his thriller doesn't have the same level of engaging features in its execution. He seems to have forgotten the most important elemnt in a thriller or mytery is to actually care or just have a sense of the person at the heart of the intrigue.
The DVD: Palm Pictures
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. There are a few different mediums, all going through digital mastering, mainly standard film, some 16mm, and some mom and pop digital camera. I'd venture to say there could be some high def digital cam in there too; it is hard to tell exactly because aside from some slight differences in sharpness and grain, the film was processed evenly and only the standard digital camcorder stuff (used for the internet footage) really sticks out.
Needless to say, the film looks great. The cinematography, shot with blue hues and icy tones, will leave you chilly. The colors really do leap out, be they the sparse clinical office environs or the neon explosion of a Tokyo nightclub. As I said before, the sharpness and grain varies depending on the stock, but always appears in the levels they intended. Contrast has nice, deep blacks. Technical and print details appear pretty perfect.
Sound: 6.1 DTS-ES Surround, 5.1 DD-EX Surround, 2.0 Stereo. Primarily French language with some English and Japanese. Optional English or Spanish subtitles. In keeping with the modern, technological theme, the film definitely goes for slick sound production. Obviously, one of the reasons this had to be a two disc edition lays in the fact that you've got that 6.1 DTS option. Extremely crisp and well-balanced. Dialogue is always clear. Atmospherics are also well done. Most impressive is the Sonic Youth score, bits of abstract noise and cold industrial themes, and it is well served by the responsive sound mix.
Extras: Two disc special edition. Disc One— Trailer— Filmographies— Palm Previews/Weblinks.
Disc Two— "Making of" Featurette
(56:40). Informative, the typical juggling between interviews with cast and crew and filming footage of various sequences. — Interviews with Connie Nielsen (6:38), Chloe Sevigny (5:31), Charles Berling (3:12), and Olivier Assayas (4:48). Probably the most interesting interview comes courtesy of Sevigny, who candidly (and politely) reveals her none to happy time making the film, from wardrobe disagreements, to being a foreigner, to Assayas non-communicative direction. — SYC 12/12/01 (30:12) . I love Sonic Youth. As a fan, this was really neat. Basically it is a behind the scenes look at the band (along with collaborator-and now third guitarist- Jim O'Rourke) scoring the film. As fan and a musician, I loved watching the band tinker and work with Assayas to get the abstract and melodic themes they both felt the film needed. For a non Sonic Youth fan, it might still hold some interest just as an insight into the creative/collaborative film process.— Demonlover screening, Ohio State University Q&A, October 4, 2003 (39:10). Following a screening of Demonlover, which was part of an Assayas retrospective, Assayas gives very detailed and sometimes drawn out answers to the audiences questions regarding the film and his process.
Conclusion : The film, by itself, I would suggest is the sort of thing best reserved as a rental. Worth watching for its beauty and some good twists but ultimately a bit of a mess. However, I'll up this two-disc edition to a "recommend" for those aesthetic foreign cinema lovers out there (who are either fans of the film or don't mind bold, blind purchases) because the presentation is quite good with a very nice transfer and decent, informative, extra material.