Don’t ask me why, but over the last nine months or so, there’s been an explosion of super-charged estrogen in movie theaters. There’s the UK’s Bend it Like Beckham, New Zealand’s “Whale Rider,” Hong Kong’s “So Close” and even the U.S.A.’s Chicago. All movies that put women in the lead, with men reduced to little more than romantic interests and, occasionally, lawyers.
And now France enters the action with Olivier Assayas “Demonlover.” But there’s a typically French twist here. The film may feature three (or is it four? or is it five?) super-tough businesswomen/spies, but Assayas’s film asks whether anything has really changed. Isn’t it the appetites of teenage boys that are still being fed by watching tough babes be tough on each other?
Yes, the subject is entertainment in the 21st century. A shame that it’s not more entertaining.
“Demonlover”, which is mostly in French but at times switches randomly to English, begins with a promising bit of airborne skullduggery. Diane (Connie Nielsen) is to all appearances a loyal businesswoman with an allegiance to Volf, an aging corporate bigwig (Jean-Baptiste Malatre). However, it becomes clear she’s up to no good when, in a moment of product placement a la Française, she slips a drugged container of Evian to an older business woman, the unsuspecting Karen (Dominique Reymond). In due course, Karen is kidnapped, left in the trunk of a car, and sent to the hospital. Guess who gets her job?
This goes down none too well with Karen’s young right hand, Elise (Chloë Sevigny). She despises Diane and appears to suspect the truth, but when she complains to the suavely cynical Hervé (Charles Berling), he doesn’t seem to care very much. He just wants to make beaucoup d’argent and possibly Diane, and in that order.
Just at the point where we’re starting to wonder what these people actually do, a visit to Tokyo provides an alternately amusing and repellent look at the present and future of pornographic anime, which our “heroes” will shortly be distributing in the West. This is followed by the appearance of Gina Gershon as Elaine, an earthy, fun-loving American who’s come to Paris to help seal the deal.
The big distribution contract is almost scuttled when Elaine and her business partners are accused of being involved with “The Hellfire Club” an “interactive torture website” said to be broadcasting live from some benighted corner of Eastern Europe. In the meantime, Diane’s corporate espionage activities are quickly spiraling out of control. Or perhaps not.
While not quite as dreamy and mysterious as Mulholland Drive, literalists will hate “Demonlover.” And non-literalists may not be crazy about it either, especially after the all too literal ending.
However, those of us who dig cool looking movies can groove on a fair amount of ultra-modern style, largely courtesy of cinematographer Denis Lenoir, production designer François-Renaud Labarthe and the music of art-punk legends Sonic Youth.
Still, “Demonlover” would have probably been plane insufferable without Gina Gershon. All the other actors are doing an outstanding job of playing essentially dead souls, and it’s a saving grace that Assayas allowed her, at least, to have some fun.