Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Connie Nielsen, Charles Berling, Chole Sevigny, Gina Gershon
Written by: Olivier Assayas
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English, French and Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 116
Date: 05/19/2002
IMDB

demonlover (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Scheme-in' for 'Demon'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following his great, ultra-cool 1996 Irma Vep Olivier Assayas has disappointed each time out. His 1999 Late August, Early September was passable but not very interesting and his 2002 Les Destinees was three boring hours of period-piece drivel.

The new demonlover looked like a promising return to Irma Vep territory, but instead it's merely a hopped-up, arty cover for a standard issue Hollywood thriller.

Connie Nielsen (The Hunted, Basic) stars as Diane, a thick-skinned businesswoman who works for a big company looking to acquire the Japanese porno anime website demonlover.com. But in actuality she works as a mole for a competing company.

The people she works with are no slouches either: Herve (Charles Berling) is a life-loving player whose smoldering gaze can seduce a woman in seconds. Elise (Chole Sevigny) is a kind of secretary/assistant who has secrets of her own, and Karen (Dominique Reymond) is the powerful woman whom Diane seeks to topple. Gina Gershon also shows up in a small role as a pot-smoking American executive.

At first, Assayas does a great job of establishing thriller elements: during an overnight flight, Diane drugs Karen's water. Later she receives a note; someone knows she did it! We don't know who to trust, and Assayas lets us in on his game a little at a time.

But by the time we know the whole story, Assayas has shifted into art-film overdrive, giving us a seemingly random collection of image and noise (the screeching soundtrack is by Sonic Youth). It's unclear whether he's going for suspense or mood or some kind of intellectual comment, but in the end, he leaves off with the kind of stupid twist ending that most American thrillers try to get away with.

I probably missed the point, but it's a lot to ask the audience to sit for 130 minutes and not give them anything more than shards of thriller elements with toppings of gratuitous sex and violence. Assayas doesn't even seem to realize that the website everyone's fighting over is nothing more than one of Hitchcock's "Maguffins" -- an object that everybody wants regardless of its real value.

With demonlover, Assayas wants us to work for our entertainment, but the desired payday never comes.

DVD Details: When Palm Pictures's truly spectacular 2-disc set arrived, I was inspired to give the film a second shot, and I'm glad I did. It definitely works better. At first I assumed that Assayas was trying to cover up a routine story with his arty visuals, but now I understand that the two are intertwined. I also complained about Sonic Youth's score, but a second listen reveals it to be far more nuanced and subtle that I originally thought. With this second viewing under my belt, I'd like to upgrade my original rating to 3 Fellinis.

Disc one contains the 116-minute uncut version of the film, filmographies, a trailer, weblinks, and trailers for Millennium Mambo, Noi, Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, Morvern Callar and the Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham and Spike Jonze collections. Disc two comes with a "making of" featurette, a featurette with Sonic Youth about the film's music, cast and crew interviews and an on-stage Q&A with Assayas. The menus on both discs are beautifully cutting edge. An "easter egg" gives the viewer a few minutes of "bonus" Hellfire Club footage. To access it, you must enter the five-digit "proof of purchase" code on the back of the DVD box.