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New to BFI Player - DEMONLOVER

demonlover
A corporate spy becomes entangled in a sinister web revolving around...the web.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Olivier Assayas

Starring: Connie Nielsen, Gina Gershon, Chloë Sevigny, Charles Berling, Jean-Baptiste Malartre

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On its 2002 release, Olivier Assayas's Demonlover confounded and compelled critics and audiences alike in equal measure. Viewing the film now, it's hard to see what the fuss was about, as Assayas's techno-thriller plays like a run of the mill corporate espionage drama, a luddite scare-mongering effort with all the insight of a Soccer Mom who watched a Fox News segment on the perils of the Deep Web.

International stars Connie Nielsen and Chloe Sevigny impress with performances en français. Nielsen plays Diane de Monx, a corporate spy currently infiltrating French media company Volf and passing on her findings to rival firm Mangatronix. Volf's latest acquisition is a Japanese producer of adult-oriented Anime, what we've now come to derisively identify as 'tentacle porn'. Seeking to acquire the US distribution rights from Volf is web-porn conglomerate Demonlover, represented by Elaine (Gina Gershon).

demonlover 2002 review

Rumour has it Demonlover are behind 'The Hellfire Club', a website that allows users to order captive young women to be tortured for their viewing pleasure (somewhat prophetically, the women assume the guises of currently revitalised pop culture icons like Wonder Woman and Lara Croft). Diane sets about investigating Elaine, but things take a deadly twist.

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Viewed today, Demonlover feels like a dry run for Assayas's later collaborations with Kristen Stewart, whose star-power introduced the French auteur to a new global audience. Like Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper, much of Demonlover's narrative concerns the relationship between a powerful woman and her subordinate personal assistant, though Diane and her frustrated American underling Elise (Sevigny) share a much more fraught working arrangement than Stewart and her employers.

demonlover 2002 review

The first half of Assayas's film is a rather straightforward corporate boardroom drama. In 2002, the world of Anime and web porn might have felt like science fiction to viewers, but now it all feels old hat, and as with Assayas's snooty, uninformed critiques of superheroes and monster movies in Clouds of Sils Maria and Something in the Air, there's an annoying 'old man shouts at cloud' tone to Assayas's view of what he would no doubt consider 'low culture' here.

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Assayas has something to say about desensitisation, with scenes of sex and violence constantly playing out on screens while the characters go obliviously about their business. It's all very Mary Whitehouse. At one point, Diane's viewing of Japanese lesbian porn is interrupted by a phone call. When asked what she was watching, she replies "CNN." It timestamps the film, as in this post-Iraq invasion world I think many of us would feel less shame about watching lesbian porn than that warmongering news network. Of course, the snippets of screen violence and sleaze are presented without context, and it's worth remembering Assayas is himself a filmmaker whose camera is fond of ogling female flesh.

demonlover 2002 review

Following a midpoint twist, the movie enters a sort of sub-Cronenberg territory as a far-fetched conspiracy begins to unveil itself. It's even less enthralling than the endless corporate negotiations of the film's initial portion, with little to distinguish it from the slew of straight to video thrillers that were exploring the darker recesses of the web in that uncertain era.



Demonlover's closing image illustrates how easily audiences can grow tired of even the most sensational footage, but ironically it also reflects how most viewers of Assayas's tiresome screed will themselves be feeling by that point.

Demonlover is on BFI Player now.