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Corporate Raider: Connie Nielsen will stop at nothing in her bid to consume a porno anime company in 'demonlover.'


Oliver Assayas' 'demonlover' deconstructs Lara Croft

By Richard von Busack

WHETHER it's Labor vs. Capital, Democrats vs. Republican, East vs. West or Itchy vs. Scratchy, symbolic conflict can be found as subtext in even the most simplistic action movies. Director Oliver Assayas, whose new film is demonlover (beware the title in lower-case), has done a typically scholarly interview at cinema-scope.com (with Mark Peranson). He mentions his dissatisfaction with megathrillers. Says Assayas, such Hollywood thrillers "start off very ambitious, like something that involves the whole universe, something metaphysical, and they end up with two people having a fistfight in a warehouse."

Assayas talks a brilliant movie (he's made one, too: 1996's Irma Vep). In demonlover, however, it seems Assayas is trying to be a director with "the American eye," to use that French phrase that describes someone with a knack for making money. What happens is that Assayas is trying to stress metaphysics as well as the action, but he neglects the basic mechanics of the fistfight in the warehouse scene. One aspect of the metaphysical thriller is that there must be someone to root for, too. This may be the problem with the corporate-espionage movie: it's always like watching two buzzards squabbling.

Assayas' film seems to be an attempted subversion of the Lara Croft movies, in the same way that Joseph Losey showed the cold, vicious side of the spy thriller in 1966's Modesty Blaise. Connie Nielsen plays a mysterious woman called "Diane," who begins the movie by spiking a female executive's Evian with Haldol. This causes her to lose her briefcase (and sets the victim up for some sort of unspecified manhandling). In demonlover, what the two buzzard-corporations are fighting over is a particularly gamy piece of meat: an adults-only animated manga empire, which is developing a 3-D component. Diane's attempt to steal secrets is countered by two mysterious women--a secretary (a miscast Chloë Sevigny) and a tough venture capitalist (Gina Gershon)--and an intimidating executive (Charles Berling). All are potentially involved with a torture website called the Hellfire Club.

Erratic rather than erotic, with hard-core porn anime sequences that seem more gross than apocalyptic, demonlover presents a snarl of loose ends. Nielsen is too bottled up to communicate whether she's a consciousness-raised feminist avenger or a plain O (as in The Story of ...) who gets a little more out of her ordeals than she'd care to admit. And the film's core is too close to the film feardotcom for comfort. It's one thing to hand an audience a box labeled "Deconstructed Thriller: Some Assembly Required." It's another matter when the pieces don't fit.

demonlover (Unrated; 129 min.), directed and written by Oliver Assayas, photographed by Denis Lenoir and starring Connie Nielsen, Chloë Sevigny and Gina Gershon, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the September 18-24, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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