All seems to be fair in love and corporate war in Demonlover. This film aloofly reflects the tropes of suspense thrillers over a fable. The moral seems to be that what goes around, comes around — with a vengeance. The juxtaposition of genre and theme has the potential for contemporized Hitchcockian high-voltage. But writer-director Olivier Assayas (best known for Irma Vep) wastes it. Demonlover is detached and uninteresting.
We first meet Diane de Monx (Connie Nielsen) on a business-class flight. Later (perhaps too much later), we arrive at the understanding that Diane is the obsessively ambitious personal assistant of her firm’s CEO, Henri-Pierre Volf (Jean-Baptiste Malarte). We watch her in the airplane bathroom injecting a drug into the sealed water container of her superior, Karen (Dominique Reymond). In the hands of a more accomplished director, her action might pique interest. Here, it’s simply inexplicable and doesn’t push the plot beyond its inertia.
Upon landing, the drugged Karen is mugged and stuffed into the trunk of her pride and joy, her Audi TT. Assayas directs the scene as a cold waltz of violence. It’s one of this film’s few highlights.
Diane is promoted to Karen’s position. Soon she’s on the way from Paris to Tokyo with another executive, Hervé Le Millinec (Charles Berling) and Karen’s former assistant, Elise Lipsky (Chloë Sevigny). The objective is to secure a contract with Tokyo Anime, an animation studio that produces manga, an X-rated subgenre of Japanese anime cartoons that often crosses the border into animated child pornography (think Pokémon goes hardcore sex). Tokyo Anime’s breakthrough is a 3-D animated feature that verges on photorealism: Demonlover.
Assayas shows us clips of the studio’s production, but — like the hotel pay-per-view porn that both Diane and Hervé seem detachedly drawn to — he censors the hard core content with digitization.
Demonlover drifts into murderous corporate espionage with Diane as its aloof Macbeth. After a while we realize — as in any Hitchcockian thriller — that people and situations are not as they seem.
The major flaw here is why should we care? Assayas only generates transient moments of weak sympathy for even his would-be tragic heroine, Diane. This disengagement from the characters dissipates the potential voltage of Demonlover and its futile attempt at suspense and tragedy. (A fumbling and muddled catfight devoid of much excitement between the usually sexy Nielsen and Gina Gershon proves the point.) Even the moral falls flat, and Demonlover ends up with little cinematic appeal.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].