Demonlover

"Hi and Mai are two ninjas who use sex magic to fight demons in a parallel universe."

Demonlover is a movie that is difficult to tame and harder to ignore. There is probably no way to make it into a satisfying experience short of many repeat viewings and some hefty stretches of the imagination, but Olivier Assayas’ bewildering mind-bender is perversely beguiling even on the first try. Be advised, however, that this is a movie with gaping ambiguities and blanks left for you to fill in. If it is a conventional thriller you seek, then this way lies madness.

The film begins inside a vicious corporate industry where magnates compete for control of a lucrative and popular brand of Japanese animated pornography. This in itself sounds prohibitively strange, but trust me, we’re only getting started. There are several American actors speaking predominantly French, among them Connie Nielsen, who plays an executive promoted after a dastardly deed on an airplane in the opening scene. Her company is negotiating a contract with a Japanese studio for the rights to distribute their wildly popular anime, and she has just been given charge of the project, to the dismay of her disgruntled assistant (Chloe Sevigny).

We quickly learn that Nielsen’s Diane is actually a corporate spy, sent from the competing company “Mangatronics” to sabotage negotiations. Gina Gershon shows up as an American bigwig eager to join in the festivities, but not before asking Sevigny’s character if it’s easy to get pot in Paris, and can she please get some for her.

It’s impossible to provide a plot description beyond that. At one point, Demonlover abandons this set-up almost entirely and veers in a related but new direction. Interesting how this is probably the first film to realistically deal with the emergence of increasingly interactive websites that cater to every fetish and perverse whim. There is a chilling verisimilitude to the way this technology and the workings behind it are portrayed, and you sense the incredible cynicism behind its construction.

Director Olivier Assayas seems to be undermining this believability with the introduction of some jarringly wacky elements. The protagonists speak French and English almost interchangeably, often switching in the middle of a conversation and sometimes I think even in the middle of a sentence. Certain scenes play like utter non sequiturs. A frightening sequence in which a character holds another at gunpoint develops in a head-scratchingly curious way. A friend of mine swears that Connie Nielsen’s hairstyle changes from scene to scene in impossible ways.

The conclusion leaves one even more puzzled than one is during the film. I think we pretty much had the movie pegged after a lengthy post-screening conversation, but it took a collaborative effort (is that illegal for film critics?) — and at least one of my colleagues remains unconvinced of our proposed interpretation. If we’re right, and I am fairly confident that we are, then the ending is a neat twist that not-so-subtly redefines all of the preceding and justifies the idiosyncrasies I just described. Still, it is not nearly as lucid and explanatory as twist endings in more commercial films are wont to be. There are still many more questions than answers.

To assert that Demonlover is “not for everyone” would be an understatement of absurd proportions. If you enjoy films like Mulholland Drive, jigsaw puzzles that come together after long discussions and possibly multiple viewings, then this might be your thing, though I don’t think it is as meticulously cohesive as David Lynch’s masterpiece. Personal reaction: I enjoyed it tremendously, even as I questioned the sanity of everyone involved. But no matter who you are, if you go, come out ready for an argument.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

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Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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