here’s my first attempt at reviewing/analyzing a film. here goes nothing.
“Fascination” is a mild description of my long-time feelings for “demonlover” a French production directed by Olivier Assayas and released in the fall of 2002. After its release, the film endured an extremely disappointed and critical audience at the Cannes Film Festival. Shortly after its promotion in Europe, the film itself became dropped away in the dark pits of Euro-arthouse film that is inaccessible, obscure, and ultimately, forgotten about by most audiences. Sure, there have been a slew of positive reactions which have done adequate justice to the wading pool of “demonlover” fans.
Personally, over several years of reading reviews, I’ve realized it’s easy to categorize the audience for this film: you either do get it, or you do not at all, whatsoever.
Conventionally speaking, “demonlover” is not a really successful or cohesive film as a whole. I sometimes wonder if its even designed to entertain its audience. Most of this doubt comes from the films’ third act — where the film ultimately disintegrates into a territory of the visceral and unusual. Disintegration for this film happens to be intentional as its purpose is to project matter that appears to be an extraction of the film’s subconscious plane. “demonlover” really exists in a world of its own, and if that world’s puppet-master happens to be Olivier, I’m not sure.
Demonlover, essentially at its core is an “anti-movie.” By this, I mean it refuses to function in the realm of how any other general movie functions. Demonlover does not adhere to a specific genre even though it’s in the vein of corporate-drama/cyber-crime/spy-thriller, it still cannot fit in any possible box even because the box would still wind up either being too big or too small. Demonlover exists in abstraction, really. Assayas proves himself to be an extremely brave, ballsy European filmmaker in the end, while also an incredibly frustrating filmmaker as well. Assayas carries on with this film tooth and nail yet remains stubborn to any questions, constantly standing by “what you see is what you get” and he won’t back down for any reason. Assayas refuses to ever compromise his artistic vision no matter how far off-the-map it is for film, even for the European market. There’s a certain epic truth to this that I feel is disregarded by many, many people.
Through the lens of Assayas’ world interpreted through the script he wrote himself, he does not provide us a linear, nor even a functional narrative for us to be guided by. Instead, the film is guided visually. Visually, the film expresses its themes and concepts. Performances and production are more appreciated when they become an integral focus while, in the meantime, the audience is derailed from a sensible story-line. Ultimately, demonlover could be considered a very superficial movie — a big gorgeous, and stunning production that takes place in a big dance of, well, nothing. Except the core to this film is not “nothing” at all — and its immense depth is what keeps me coming back for more.
Demonlover begins by enticing a marketable audience with an opening sequence that could have potentially revamped the spy/espionage thriller movie. All of the ingredients are here: slow, static, eerie images of corporate travelers sleeping on a red-eye flight, the camera pans from behind an important-looking business interaction with the incredibly enticing Connie Nielsen, playing Diane de Monx, as she is first introduced as the personal assistant to Volf, the executive of Volf Financiere, a French finance company that somehow mediates the global pornography industry. Diane writes down Volf’s statements about some sort of contract involving corporate law.
Cut-to a scene that involves our next best ingredient: its now morning, the plane plans to land soon in Paris, and Diane de Monx slinks from the back entrance of the airplane where flight attendants tend to the privileged business executives by distributing a fancy first-class breakfast. In the midst of this, Diane, dressed in a breathtaking obsidian-black designer top (her costume design is pretty much like postmodern goth meets cut-throat corporate business-meeting attire) slips her hand out to grab an airline Evian water that’s in a compact jello-cup sized thing. French enough already. In this moment, we’re wondering who is this woman, she looks intriguing, and she seems to be doing something fishy, which intrigues us even more. Diane proceeds, in a series of stylish jump-cuts, remove a fresh bottle of Haldol, unwraps a sterilized syringe, sucks up the whole contents, and squirts it into the Evian, only by making a tiny little poke that no one will notice. Diane’s no rookie, she cleans up the mess by properly disposing of the waste in the lavatory trashcan. Diane finds her seat next to Karen, played by a lavish Dominique Reymond, where she casually rests the Haldol-flavored Evian jello-cup on Karen’s dining tray, positioned for her to confuse it as her own. The two discuss business professionally yet casually. Diane’s dialogue disguises her to be an impassive, neutral woman who is there to work. After the women bore one another with Volf’s matters, Karen peels back the Evian and enjoys a refreshing gulp. Diane, after taking a seat behind her, catches a satisfying glimpse, grabs her wristwatch to mark the minute’s dot, and coldly stares ahead, calculating her next move.
For me, it’s not difficult to understand what’s going on. The film continues to follow these corporate characters in a choatic Charles-de-Galle airport sequence where Diane is the all-knowing, omnipotent eye that captures everything that goes on — behind the madness lies Diane’s cryptic operation. Drama unfolds as Karen begins to sizzle out from the drink and the others remain oblivious.
Sonic Youth’s stunningly brilliant soundtrack kicks in here: a deep, low, nauseating whirring sound: it’s mechanical yet delightfully electronic, it helps create a well-paced tension as Karen’s condition worsens and the briefcase handcuffed to her wrist becomes the target for two guys that work for Diane’s operation. The two succeed in stealing the briefcase and plopping Karen in the trunk of her Audi TT, and jet-set out of the airport parking garage, concluding one mission that yields many struggles for Diane’s not-so-smooth ride for the rest of the film.
I love how formulaic this introduction is: how appealing it is for the thriller audience, how it constructs itself before the audience with such confidence: pretty much it’s enough to say “okay, now we’re gonna deliver you the rest of this crazy spy story, so stick around.” If only Assayas made things that easy for anyone.
(Finishing later… ran out of steam already. It’s difficult for me to be concise with this.)