Sunday, October 10, 2004


I've promised twice to post on Olivier Assayas's Demonlover, which I recently watched twice on DVD. The problem is that I don't really have a coherent response to it, just some scattered thoughts. But here they are, for whatever they're worth:

1) For the first hour or so, the film appears to be a postmodern corporate thriller, all reflections, computer screens, neon, and smoothly gliding surfaces. This aspect, while skillfully shot by Assayas, I didn't find particularly compelling. But the film's real story is something quite different.

2) This real story is one that's a commonplace of sadomasochistic pornography: a powerful but unsympathetic woman forcibly transformed into a sex slave. (Not that the film is itself pornographic, though we do see a few shots of Diane, the protagonist, in traditional bondage costumes and positions.) The true function of the thriller aspects, which taken on their own don't add up to anything, is to establish that everyone around Diane is plotting her downfall.

3) For me, what makes the film work, to the extent that it does, is Connie Nielsen's complex performance as Diane. The ambiguity Nielsen gives Diane, suggesting without ever making it explicit that she is attracted to her own destruction, makes her character the most interesting thing in the film. As for the rest of it, I don't believe that the film says anything about international capitalism or "new media" that hasn't been said better before.

(I saw the one-disc edition of the DVD, which has interviews with Assayas and the leading actors. There's also a two-disc edition which has bonus footage of the Hellfire Club that was cut from film, as well as a making-of featurette and a Q & A with Assayas, but my regular video place apparently doesn't have it.)

There's a lot of stuff online about the film, which you can find by searching on "Assayas" and "Demonlover." Most of this is either negative or extravagantly positive; a good example of the latter is this interview and symposium from Reverse Shot magazine, as well as a later essay from that magazine lauding Demonlover as one of ten best films of 2003.

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