Criterion Prediction #217: Boarding Gate, by Alexander Miller
Title: Boarding Gate
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Asia Argento, Michael Madsen, Kim Gordon, Kelly Lin, Carl Ng
Synopsis: As career criminal Miles (Madsen) considers retirement, his former partner/associate Sandra (Argento) pays him a visit with her own scheme, involving drug smuggling and corporate espionage on an international level.
Critique: Boarding Gate is one of Assayas’ more derivative efforts in terms of genre. He’s leaning into the machinations and tropes of B-noir fare. Of course, the film itself is anything but derivative, working with the breezily intuitive direction that penetrates thematic, contextual and aesthetic barriers. Once again, Assayas’ direction has that casually persuasive hall-of-mirrors range of stylistic variety. Boarding Gate has the mere framework of a modern noir tale–shifting alliances, shady characters, a contemporary criminal network, secrets, violence and sex. But Assayas inoculates his material with a spirited level of punk ambition.
Throughout the film, there’s the feeling that the director is on the verge of losing control, that he’s riffing too hard on his creation, working too sporadically. Yet it finds its groove and lands on both feet even when it’s pushing so hard against expectations and conventions.
With movies like Boarding Gate, you feel like Assayas is getting worked by his film as we interpret what he invest in getting it off the ground. The same goes for Demonlover, Irma Vep and flickers of Something in the Air and Carlos.
Boarding Gate has the requisite level of duplicitous intrigue of genre molding but it’s not a “neo-noir” because that would invoke a subversion or revision of genre. Assayas is working less out of self-awareness and more into contextual reflection. In terms of casting, the presence of Argento is crucial, naturally teeming with unrestrained sexual energy and rebel yell feminist bent. She’s an ideal femme (or feminist) fatale and looks perfectly comfortable in this world. Scenes where Argento is in her bra and underwear, sporting a pair of handcuffs and a gun, stuffing a kilo of dope in her pants or blowing some guys head off, she’s selling it with that unmistakable swagger that is her radiant feminine confidence.
The inclusion of Madsen feels like a referential callback. Another presence in the film feels molded to the material. Madsen’s always felt a little lost in his own time, cut from the gravelly cloth of Spencer Tracy or Lawrence Tierney. Boarding Gate has some rough edges. Still, it’s hard to see these as flaws. The relative missteps in Assayas’ movies are like hearing Ringo yell “I’ve got blisters on me fingers” after Helter Skelter, or punk singers counting off “1, 2, 3, 4…” before blazing out a roaring anthem–an entirely natural, incidental accident inherent to the medium.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Considering the work of Assayas for The Criterion Collection is almost a cheat, as it feels like nearly all of his work will, at some point, receive a spine number. However, in the tradition of Criterion’s penchant for lesser-seen works from their featured directors, there’s a good chance a film like Boarding Gate could be in contention. This column has made a case for Assayas multiple times (Demonlover, Irma Vep, Cold Water, Disorder, Winter’s Child). Still, the lesser-seen Boarding Gate would be a likely surprise and a title deserving of a wider audience. In terms of distribution, there’s a Blu-ray from Dutch Film Works and the more common DVD issued from Magnet releasing is pretty bare bones.