dir. Assayas

Opens Fri Oct 31

Cinema 21

Demonlover opens with a drugging and ends with torture. The drugging comes courtesy of a spiked Evian. The torture, a car battery and a metal bed frame. In between these bookends there is murder, kidnapping, porn, more murder, and a dash of rape. All of which can mean only one thing: C'est Français.

Specifically, it's a work from French director Olivier Assayas, whose Irma Vep is one of my all-time favorite films--an inspired piece of work that explored obsession, genius, and the possible demise of French cinema. This time, Assayas has turned to the mangled world of Internet porn, and the results are two-thirds brilliant, one-third travesty.

The story is a wee bit complicated: A French conglomerate known as the VolfGroup is negotiating the acquisition of a Japanese animation house called TokyoAnimé, whose revolutionary 3-D porn is set to alter spanking habits worldwide. VolfGroup has competition, however, in the form of Magnatronics, another conglomerate whose existence relies on keeping TokyoAnimé out of VolfGroup's hands.

Enter Diane (Connie Nielsen), a morally vacant employee of Magnatronics who has wormed her way into VolfGroup's upper offices. Cold and stylish, Diane's heart appears to have been replaced by Prada, and after she performs the aforementioned drugging of a superior, she is handed the TokyoAnimé discussions--just the position she needs to give TokyoAnimé to Magnatronics. But it's not that easy.

At this point, Demonlover has been set up as a corporate thriller, a nutshell it resides in for the bulk of its running time. But as negotiations between VolfGroup and TokyoAnimé continue, and as an executive (Gina Gershon) for an American porn company arrives, Assayas' film begins to crumble. Double-crosses and mischief pile up, and the moment Diane is forced to commit murder, the film makes a key turn. And that turn is toward a muddled mess, as the film stumbles toward its ending. In other words, things fall apart.

Or do they? What I'm about to state is a complete cop-out, but here's the thing: I still don't know how I feel about it. Part of me appreciates it; part of me despises it. There are no clear answers to be found in Assayas' film, and while many will hate it, others will find it brilliant--and doesn't that alone make it a successful venture?