Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Connie Nielsen, Charles Berling, Gina Gershon
Synopsis: Two rival corporations compete to distribute 3D manga pornography. While tensions mount, they’re introduced to American internet company Demonlover – which might be a front for an even more illicit, real-time, interactive torture site known as the Hellfire club.
Critique: I’ve mostly dispensed with trying to explain Assayas’s films in terms of genre. Assayas is always operating on a more elevated aesthetic plateau, his films are consistently globally minded, and like Carlos, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Clean he’s assembled a stellar international cast, locale (Mexico, Japan, France) and fluidly transcends genres. In referential terms to the director’s work, Demonlover is as much a thriller as Personal Shopper is a horror film. Of course, that hardly scratches the surface of multi-layered dimensional Rubik’s cube of Assayas’s 2002 feature. The story is part corporate espionage, turned erotic thriller, compounded with a kinky cyberpunk subterfuge. Despite the film’s full immersion into the taboo world of torture and pornography, Assayas is anything but subtle. However, his deft handling and casually frenzied realization is inspired and potent. The story is tangled, the interpersonal alliances are always shifting, and at certain plot junctures the film seems to suspend logic in favor of an overall surreal dissolution, but Demonlover is an immersive experience that plays on an unheard filmic frequency. The ensemble cast is wonderful, and the score by Sonic Youth is an added bonus.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: The Criterion Collection has done right by Olivier Assayas over the past few years, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if their coverage of his work should continue. And in the spirit of turning people on to movies that were overlooked, or maligned by critics, Demonlover would be an ideal candidate for restoration and release. Furthermore, Demonlover was a hot-button issue with censorship and distribution. Some truncated versions pixelate shots of animated genitalia, as well as omitting more graphic nudity. While the Palm Pictures DVD claims to be the “unrated directors cut,” it still clocks in at 116 minutes when the alleged runtimes (according to Letterboxd, IMDB) vary from 120 to 129 minutes. If anyone’s going to deliver a genuinely definitive release of Demonlover, it should be Criterion.