I didn't really enjoy this movie much, but I did learn something
interesting from the background research. I found out the reason why so
many French movies suck. The writer/director of this film, Olivier Assayas, was
"president of the jury at the entrance examination of La Fémis (France's
national film school) in 2002."
Imagine that. France is filed with great filmmakers. Michel Gondry
directed and co-wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Claude Chabrol is
still alive and still directing. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
is arguably the greatest living filmmaker. The list could go on and on, but I
chose three names familiar on both sides of the Atlantic. So whom did they put in charge of
the admission process for the national film school? They selected the director of Demonlover,
which is conceivably the worst film I've ever seen from a major director (and,
mind you, I have seen Robert Altman's Popeye and Spike Lee's She Hate Me), and
which would receive no better than
a gentleman's D as a final project in film school. Placing Assayas in charge of
a film school's admissions process is like placing Amy Winehouse in charge of a
Boarding Gate is not as bad a film as Demonlover. Assayas obviously did a
little research since that earlier film, in which the business presentations involved
mistakes in basic arithmetic, because Boarding Gate expresses the
background details of international business in plausible terms. If he got his facts essentially in
order this time, he still made a mess of the actual filmmaking. In fact it's difficult to imagine
an experienced director making a film this bad without doing so intentionally.
While it is ostensibly an erotic thriller about double-crosses in the world of
international trade, it includes what is essentially a 34 minute face-to-face
talk scene in which two ex-lovers debate about whether they will get back
together. I'm only exaggerating a little bit. The conversation actually takes
place in two segments, one in his office (9 minutes) and the other in his
apartment (25 minutes). Those two scenes are separated by a brief action scene,
and the one in the apartment includes some attempts at sex as well as a surprise
ending which involves some violence, but in the main my earlier description of a 34 minute conversation
was not unfair.
And this is not just any 34 minute conversation.
It is possible to imagine a film scenario where 34 minutes worth of
bitter lover's reminiscences might be interesting, if the actors were Jack
Nicholson and Kathleen Turner and the dialogue were scripted by Woody Allen,
although I think even that would probably not work in a thriller. In this case,
however, the female participant is the Eurotrash queen Asia Argento, who mumbles every line in
an energy-free whisper
with no hint of emotion and no change in facial expression, as if she were a
female Cylon with the volume turned too low.
Although she is in danger of being declared clinically deceased, Asia seems as lively and perky
as Betty Hutton compared to her male counterpart, Michael Madsen. Maybe the big
guy was jet-lagged, because he seems to go through the film in a sleep-deprived
stupor. He performed every scene in this film in two shirts, and he changed them
in the middle of one of the scenes, so it's possible that he showed up for a
day, shot his scenes, and left. I don't suppose the director had time to do a
lot of re-takes because there are a couple of occasions when Madsen seems to
have forgotten his lines, pauses a bit, then obviously fills in some generic verbiage. In
addition to his other problems, Madsen is completely miscast in the part of a
high-flying financial wizard who has fallen down on his luck. He is bloated and
overweight, breathes laboriously, smokes profusely, and looks like a
(Refusing to change his wrinkled shirt doesn't help.) He's not exactly the guy
to instill confidence in the money boys in Hong Kong and Zurich.
Madsen himself has said:
"I was completely confused with that character. I really didn't know what the
fuck to do. I mean, the guy is on the internet and he is stockbroker and he's a
businessman and he has an office with a staff. He wears nice shirts, suits. He
drives a nice car. I could not relate to it at all. I did not know what the fuck
Madsen shows some real potential as a film critic!
Although he might want to learn how to use contractions first.
The really bad news is that Madsen and Argento's deadpan performances seem like
the hyperkinetic work of Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh compared to the
performance of Kim Gordon, Courtney Love's pal and the singer/bassist from Sonic
Youth, who is cast in a minor role. She delivered her lines as if she couldn't
understand English at all and had to pronounce it phonetically by spitting out memorized syllables
in a monotone. Other than a lack of time in the shooting schedule, the only
explanation for why Assayas didn't re-shoot Gordon's scenes is that his own
English is not up to a standard where he could hear how badly she was reading
her lines. On the other hand, Gordon also had some dialogue in Cantonese. (!!)
Perhaps she is the Cantonese Meryl Streep.
The film is not completely without merit. There are a couple of fairly decent
Bourne Light action scenes and the basic plot is interesting, albeit told
in an utterly confusing way. Those few positives make it a better film than Demonlover, but that is faint praise indeed. Viewed in the broad perspective,
is a thriller in which the plot is confusing, the acting is indifferent at best,
long stretches include no forward momentum, and some parts are presented in foreign
languages without subtitles.
If you run a film school, I wouldn't recommend placing Assayas
in charge. In fact, I wouldn't even recommend admitting him
as a student, unless you have a remedial education department.