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DEMONLOVER (director/writer: Olivier Assayas; screenwriter: based on the novel by William Gibson; cinematographer: Denis Lenoir; editor: Luc Barnier; music: Sonic Youth; cast: Connie Nielsen (Diane de Monx), Chloë Sevigny (Elise Lipsky), Gina Gershon (Elaine Si Gibril), Charles Berling (Hervé Le Millinec), Dominique Reymond (Karen), Edwin Gerard (Edward Gomez), Jean-Baptise Malartre (Henri-Pierre Volf), Abi Sakamoto (Kaori); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Xavier Giannoli/Edouard Weil; Palm Pictures/Lions Gate; 2002-France-in English and French with English subtitles)
“It ends up feeling like we arrived through a bad dream in Neverland.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A slick looking French high-tech corporate thriller directed with style over substance by Olivier Assayas (“Late August, Early September”/”Les destinees/”Irma Vep”). It was difficult to get concerned about the fate of such cold, soulless, and unfeeling corporate types battling for power, status and money. It’s a film that presents no hero, only people who are beginning to resemble animated androids. The steely blue photography used by cinematographer Denis Lenoir creates the chilly sterile atmosphere for the power-hungry corporate players (mostly female) to swim in a sea of corruption. Purposely remaining incomprehensible and inanely hip, the film takes on an almost mindless video game look. It’s different from any other film of Assayas’, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Based on the novel by William Gibson it plays as a shotgun marriage between art and sleaze, fitting itself into the cult film category where there will be a surefire audience. It bristles with the pulsating score by Sonic Youth, a high-powered international cast, an absurd plot, a modern world’s viewpoint, and knowingly peeks into cutting-edge anime and cyber-porn. It does all this to point out that what you see is only what you think you see. Ultimately, it’s about dangerous mind games played for high stakes, which in the end takes away everybody’s humanity and blurs any moral boundaries. It leaves this message without, at least, also dumping some bogus philosophy on us as did other movies with a similar theme such as The Matrix.

The VolfGroup, a French-based company, is about to close a big merger deal with TokyoAnime, an animation company that provides pornographic comic books and anime films. The innovative Tokyo company needs mucho capital to develop its latest 3-D animation technology, and is therefore anxious for the deal to be finalized. Volf (Jean-Baptise Malartre) relies on Karen to finalize the deal, but she’s drugged and kidnapped upon her return from setting up the deal in Japan. When found in the trunk of her new black Audi TT 18 hours later, she becomes unavailable to carry out her assignment. Not wasting a sec, Volf hires his assistant, Diane (Connie Nielsen), to take her place and sends her to Tokyo with her immediate boss, the sex-driven Hervé (Charles Berling). The deal is closed but it turns out Diane is a mole for a competing company called Magnatronics, who will soon lose their niche in the market to Internet rival Demonlover, an American-based company, unless something is done to derail the rival. That’s where spy Diane earns her dirty paycheck as she does everything possible to sabotage Demonlover from gaining an exclusive rights deal with the VolfGroup, including connecting them to a popular with teenagers fantasy interactive torture web site called “The Hellfire Club.”

We follow Diane’s lustful romance with Hervé, that chills after Tokyo, then how she deals in a criminal way with the tough-minded American businesswoman Elaine (Gina Gershon) sent over to negotiate the deal. Finally, we see how she has to deal with her mortal enemy, the long-suffering assistant Elise (Chloe Sevigny), who is extremely hostile and resents that Diane took over for Karen and the way the bitchy ice queen treats her with contempt.

The workplace environment is viewed as amoral and inhuman, and peddling smut doesn’t mean anything to the corporate types because they have already lost their humanity. In this cutthroat environment, where the deceitful power-brokers know no boundaries for their reach, anything seems to go if you can get away with it. The film gives us the illusion that it shuffles back and forth from Tokyo to Paris to the United States, as it ends up feeling like we arrived through a bad dream in Neverland. Though riveting in its dizzying fast pace, the film never got past my original confusion about what I was seeing and that I didn’t care about a single character.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”