Judge David Johnson hopes one day we'll all be able to get past the blatant ethnic slurs, and all get along—man, woman, and demon alike.
Pokemon it ain't.
Industrial espionage with an underground twist, demonlover frames the moral bankruptcy of its characters against the seedy backdrop of animated pornography—and darker, more secretive recesses of the Internet.
Facts of the Case
Two high-powered companies are in a fierce bidding war for rights to cutting-edge pornographic Japanese anime, and scruples are no object. And with the newest rage, 3-D adult animation, surfacing, the industry will soon be worth untold millions. As such, the companies will stop at nothing to get the jump on their competitors. And that's where Diane de Monx (Connie Nielsen, Gladiator) comes in.
Diane is a beautiful, ruthless power player in one of the companies, and the opening sequence finds her poisoning the drink of a coworker. With the coworker out of commission, Diane is promoted, and suddenly has the power to make or break the impending rights deal. The question is, to which company does she pledge allegiance?
The road Diane travels toward fortune is spotted with some characters of an equally dubious nature. There's her coworker Herve (Charles Berling), a man who serves his impulses and not much else; her antagonist in the office Elise (Chloe Sevigny), who harbors serious ill will toward Diane; and the bombastic representative from an American business seeking partnership rights for the manga distribution, Elaine (Gina Gershon, Showgirls).
As Diane navigates the shark-infested waters of industrial espionage, she continually finds herself deeper and deeper in dangerous and unknown territory, where she must match wits with, and actually do battle with, her opponents, until her goals are achieved.
However, the ultimate price may be what is demanded by the unforeseen darkness that is the Hellfire Club, an extreme, ultra-secretive interactive torture website. And suddenly it is survival, not wealth, for which Diane strives.
These days I don't know what to make of the current use of genre labels. Whether it's "psychological thriller," which, as I have whined about in the past, seems synonymous with "brain-scorchingly boring" or "teen sex comedy," a.k.a. "adolescent morons drinking urine," I can't trust these sound-bites. demonlover is touted on the disc jackets, in one of the accolades, as a "techno-thriller" and an "erotic shocker."
Neither, in this judge's humble opinion, apply.
I did not find demonlover "thrilling," or "shocking" or "erotic" in the least. The film is a character study of people (a) operating with little or no scruples and (b) getting themselves deep into holes that they can't claw out of unscathed.
At its heart, demonlover is an industrial espionage film, so it is populated with a few twists and turns, as well as some reveals of a few characters' true intentions and allegiances.
The backdrop of the world of Japanese adult animation, and eventually "The Hellfire Club" website, is simply that—a backdrop. Director Olivier Assayas chooses to turn his focus towards his trio of characters—Diane, Herve, and Elise—in lieu of exploring the landscape and underworld of pornographic anime.
This is okay, though I couldn't help but wish more time had been devoted to these worlds, particularly the mysterious Hellfire Club. I would have preferred a deeper probe into this enigmatic culture.
Assayas provides a few examples of the animation (seemingly heavily promoted on the disc jacket), but never revisits the world that generates and craves it. It is immediately shuffled into the background, becoming the bone that the characters fight for.
The movie is slow. It is well-acted, well-written, and directed with gusto, but the plot didn't grab me enough. I definitely wouldn't classify it as a thriller, though the downward spirals of the main characters certainly elicited a few helpings of suspense.
Diane proved to be the most interesting player, since it is obvious that this is a woman in way over her head. Her fight to keep from drowning is far and away the most captivating element of the film, but unfortunately it was not enough for me emerge from the viewing experience moved.
Palm Pictures has done an excellent job with this presentation, the "unrated director's cut." I read rumors that an "uncensored" cut may be released, but don't fall for it. The only censored portions of the film were some brief, animated penetration shots. This two-disc set feature the movie on disc one, in a sharp 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that really pushes the blue tones of the movie well. No discernible defects. Sound is even tighter, with a rare DTS ES 6.1 mix that works extremely well, plus a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 mix. Sure, this isn't a loud, busy movie, but a few sequences (the racquetball court and the dance club) take excellent advantage of audio.
Disc two holds the special features. While there aren't a ton of them, everything that is offered is quality. Four interviews, with the three stars and the director, are raw and honest. A question-and-answer session with Assayas (following a screening at The Ohio State University) is also an excellent source of insight into the director's process. Two documentaries chronicle the making of demonlover as well as the production of the music, performed by Sonic Youth. But where are the commentary tracks?
Well, demonlover didn't float my boat. If you're into dialogue-rich, character-driven French espionage films featuring a few cartoon demons boinking girls with big eyes, it may be for you.
The accused will do eighty hours of community service working on Spongebob Squarepants episodes. On second thought, that may not be the best idea.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
• Making-of Documentary
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