People whisper a lot in Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover, mostly in French. They whisper about elaborate, obscure deals and alliances; they whisper about sex and death and, in weak moments, love. Demonlover is about the sleepiest corporate thriller imaginable, especially considering its MacGuffin — 3-D porno anime software that everyone is willing to kill to get. The formidable Connie Nielsen is Diane, who works for a French corporation sealing a deal with TokyoAnime. Diane has risen up the company ladder by sabotaging her former boss, and everyone else in the movie, including Chloe Sevigny as a resentful assistant and Gina Gershon as an executive for an American web-porn outfit, has his or her own agendas and isn’t shy about pursuing them. At one point, Sevigny holds a gun on Nielsen and forces her to step on the gas repeatedly in her parked car. Why? It’s a message.
Just about the last word in hip Gallic crypto-intrigue, Demonlover would love us to find it deeper than it is. Over and over, people hold solemn, antagonistic meetings over who’ll get the rights to make computer-generated sleaze. God forbid there should be any humor in this. Gina Gershon, surprisingly, provides some fresh air in her few onscreen moments as the straight-talking, weed-toking exec. But she’s out of the picture too soon, and the plot collapses into trashy-ominous scenes involving a torture-porn site named The Hellfire Club. Don’t people watch normal porn with real people any more?
The film moves like molasses, but Assayas exerts a rigorous control, framing Connie Nielsen both tightly and generously. I’m not sold on the movie’s being some sort of feminist statement — not when it comes complete with a catfight between Gershon and Nielsen and a couple of scenes with Nielsen slinking around in skin-hugging Irma Vep drag — but, to the extent that it has any politics, it interestingly posits a corporate world wherein powerful women can ignore the content of the misogynistic swill they’re dealing in and focus on how to get it and how to exploit it.
Similarly, I guess it’s possible to ignore all the conspiratorial mysticism and just groove on the atmosphere (which recalls American Psycho), the elite indie cast, and the movie’s night-owl jet-lag mood, in which characters are always waking up in desolately immaculate hotel rooms and watching the same soulless porno. Demonlover is like post-orgasm melancholy reworked as a satire on the techno-corporate beast. I found it incomprehensible on a scene-by-scene basis and almost entirely unreadable on an emotional level, and therefore an endurance test at times — there’s a late dinner scene between Nielsen and a rapacious colleague that goes on forever — but it never quite lost me.
A brain and a vision exist under the surface, though by the time cars are exploding, people are getting shot, and Connie Nielsen falls unconscious yet again (she blacks out more often than a gumshoe in a ’40s noir), the movie more or less abandons its cool and grimly goes about tying up its loose ends. Most critics approaching Demonlover know they’ve seen something but can’t agree on what; the movie is perhaps more fun to talk about or write about than to watch.