The French have brought us many wonderful things: Voltaire, Manet, brioche. But it pays to remember that they as a people worship Jerry Lewis and Mickey Rourke. They also have no clue about producing even semi-decent rock music. I bring this up because I’ve just seen Olivier Assayas’ demonlover and the experience left me asking the question, “What the high heckola was that?”
This is a deeply misguided film that carries all the intent and pretension of being a profound meditation on dominance, porn, culture clashes and big business as a blood sport. Alas, what it is turns out to be is painfully obtuse with brief patches of the bleeding obvious tossed our way as though they were epiphanies of the highest order. Things like, business can be cutthroat, porn can corrupt.
Connie Nielsen plays Diane, an ice queen set on moving up the corporate ladder, though not necessarily that of the company who has her on its payroll. She begins the film by surreptitiously dosing a rival, who is unaware of any rivalry between them, with Haldol as they jet home to Paris from a business meeting in Japan. Diane steadily becomes more unpleasant as the celluloid progresses, more steely in her resolve, more willing to do what it takes. Her arch enemy is Elise, played by Chloe Sevigny in ill-fitting clothes and an unsure gait in her high heels. That Assayas may be making a value judgment on Americans sartorial savoir faire is a possibility. Though why we later see some of Diane’s ultra chic clothing laid out carefully on a bed in a fetching ensemble that has been carefully shredded is, like much of the film, never explained. From Japan to France and back again, Diane and Elise play tedious and endless games of one-upsmanship involving such interludes as one forcing the other at gunpoint to drive into a parking structure, stop, and then, you’ll pardon the expression, gun the engine several times.
They’re scrapping over which of them will seal the deal for a Japanese anime company that produces the demonlover of the title. That would be the wildly popular porn tales of two sisters who use sex magic to defeat monsters in another dimension. This allows the film to splash animated images of nubile women being violated in a variety of novel ways that I will leave to your imagination. There is also corporate romance, corporate espionage, both internal and external, and Gina Gershon as the beautiful American who steps into more than she bargained for trying to buy the U.S. rights to the anime.
To their credit, everyone says their lines with a straight face and does a credible job of pretending that this all makes some sort of sense. You can’t fault their collective conviction. You can fault a script by Assayas, who was responsible for the divine take on filmmaking, IRMA VEP. He seems to have confused stylish cinematography with coherence. And mistaken his own interest in the story with a story that is interesting. Zut alors.