Alternating between French and English, the film hinges on the duplicitous dealings of Diane de Monx (Connie Nielsen), a merciless businesswoman who kicks things off by drugging a fellow employee in an effort to move up the corporate ladder. Now firmly ensconced as second in command at the Volf Group, Diane begins negotiations with animation giant TokyoAnimé, the world's largest and most successful producer of high quality sex cartoons. Diane is, in fact, a double agent working for rival firm Mangatronics, who - recognizing that a deal between Volf and TokyoAnimé would put them out of business - have hired her to sabotage the ongoing talks between the two companies. Unfortunately, despite a veneer of poker-faced iciness, someone is on to Diane's plans, and she suspects that either her antagonistic coworker Elise (Chloë Sevigny) or hunky negotiating partner Hervé (Charles Berling) is the villain attempting to blackmail her.
Although her enemies remain cloaked in mystery, it quickly becomes obvious that who did what, when, and where are of little concern to the director behind Demonlover's controls. As in Irma Vep, Assayas sculpts his film around formidable femininity; both Nielsen's Diane and Sevigny's Elise (not to mention Gina Gershon's capitalist mercenary) are imposing figures meant to glorify the potential fearsomeness found in females who roam the corporate jungle. But what begins as a jazzy cyberpunk thriller about nefarious machinations in and around the animated porno world brusquely devolves into a hallucinatory quagmire in which reality and fantasy naturally coexist side by side. Druggings, kidnappings, double-crosses, and eroticized tension ensue as Diane plummets further and further down the psychological rabbit hole, and what she finds at the bottom is a puzzling swirl of self-conscious cinematic clichés meant to represent something profound about the role of women in the global capitalist power structure.
At least, that may be what Demonlover is about; like the film's herky-jerky plot, the fundamental point of Assayas' film is never coherently articulated. Denis Lenoir's cinematography gives the film a seductive aloofness that visualizes high-stakes wheeling and dealing as the cold-hearted sport of power-hungry backstabbers, but the film's glossy facade can't adequately compensate for its woefully shallow story. Midway through, Assayas shuttles the film down a jarring narrative detour reminiscent of David Lynch's Lost Highway (clearly one of Assayas' inspirations), but, like that hypnotically confusing failure, once the abrupt shift has been made, the director can't manage to reclaim control of his topsy-turvy material. As the conniving Diane, Nielsen turns egocentric amorality into a designer fashion statement, and Sevigny is charmingly menacing as Diane's contentious adversary Elise. However, since the characters have been constructed as genre archetypes rather than believable human beings, their descent into a perverse fantasia of Mexican shootouts and Emma Peel costumes (set to Sonic Youth's strident feedback-enhanced score) comes across as the infuriating meanderings of a filmmaker indulging in non-linear experimentation. For all its smeared, trance-like beauty, Demonlover is a film determined to make no sense. As such, it's a rousing success.
Aka Demon Lover.
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 6th November 2002
Box Office USA: $39.3k
Distributed by: Palm Pictures
Production compaines: Citizen Films, Cofimage, Elizabeth Films, Group Dataciné, Berns Brothers Productions
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Fresh: 37 Rotten: 39
IMDB: 5.8 / 10
Director: Olivier Assayas
Screenwriter: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Connie Nielsen as Diane de Monx, Charles Berling as Hervé Le Millinec, Chloë Sevigny as Elise Lipsky, Dominique Reymond as Karen, Jean-Baptiste Malartre as Henri-Pierre Volf, Gina Gershon as Elaine Si Gibril, Edwin Gerard as Edward Gomez, Thomas M. Pollard as Avocat américain, Abi Sakamoto as Kaori - la traductrice, Naoko Yamazaki as Eiko, Nao Ōmori as Shoji (as Nao Ohmori), Jean-Pierre Gos as Verkamp - Contact Diane, Julie Brochen as Gina - Amie de Diane, Randall Holden as Ray, Alexandre Lachaux as Erwan - Broker #1, Ludovic Schoendoerffer as Luis - Broker #2, Mathias Mlekuz as Chauffeur d'Elise, Gilles Masson as Homme au chien, Pascal Oumaklouf as Agresseur #1 de Karen, Bruno Soldani as Agresseur #2 de Karen, Arnaud Mathey-Dreyfus as Assistant de Hervé, Stéphane Lévy as Assistant de Volf, Jurgen Doering as Styliste, Alexis Pivot as Frankie, Eric Weinberg as Père de Frankie, Laurent Jacquet as Chauffeur de Volf, Papis Gadio as Ami d'Elise, Danny Evangelista as Valet de chambre Volf, Carmelita Tuazan as Gouvernante, Margot Kansten as Fille Volf #1, Charlotte Kansten as Fille Volf #2, Paul Michineau as Voiturier Hôtel Raphaël, Arnaud Guenet as Garçon d'étage Hôtel Raphaël, Marie Modiano as Jeune fille au restaurant, Xinjie Ge as Serveuse restaurant, Tarô Suwa as Japon - Avocat #1, Ikko Suzuki as Japon - Avocat #2, Black as Japon - Travesti au Yellow Club, Emiko Mokudai as Japon - Masseuse, Toru Kodama as Japon - Homme d'affaires, Romantica as Japon - Danseuses au Yellow Club, E. Male as Japon - VJs au Yellow Club, Hugo Aguilera as Mexique - Homme de main #1, Julian Bucio as Mexique - Homme de main #2, Mauricio Martínez as Mexique - Homme de main #3, George W. Bush as Himself (archive footage), Arnaud Cafaxe as Salary man (uncredited), Jean-Charles Dumay as Henri (uncredited), Karine Lima as Zora (uncredited)