One week a month, Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: Equity inspires a look back at other films set in the corporate world.
Olivier Assayas has never differentiated between art and trash: Of all the serious European filmmakers who’ve experimented with genre since the 1990s, Assayas may be the most at home within the form. Which is not to say that 2002’s Demonlover is some sort of cozy exercise. On the contrary, it’s a wildly discomfiting, borderline-experimental thriller that works the viewer over with relentless, pounding purposefulness.
Fresh off of supporting turns in Hollywood fare like The Devil’s Advocate and Gladiator, Connie Nielsen plays Diane, a sleek upper-management executive negotiating the overseas purchase of a Japanese anime studio. (She works for the Volf Corporation, whose name suggests a predatory, lupine mindset). In a series of short, precise strokes, Assayas evokes the chilly efficiency of big-money business and the luxe transience of an executive-class lifestyle whose players (including Charles Berling and Chloë Sevigny as coiffed, competitive associates) have long since mastered jet lag.
All is not as it seems, however, and Nielsen’s cool, affectless performance—she literally doesn’t bat an eye—is in the service of Diane’s disguise, which drops right around the time she goes from boardroom intimidation tactics to hand-to-hand combat with a lithe rival (Gina Gershon). The satire here is of how the common corporate concept of “cutthroat” goes from a general mentality to a physical practice, but for all its mentions of manga (and carefully choreographed girl-on-girl action set pieces, a year before Kill Bill) Demonlover is very serious business. The violence, which is brutal, is meant as both a real-world correlative to and a commentary upon the depraved content of the controversial “3-D hentai” that Diane is trying to secure and distribute. Assayas’ prescience in depicting a global entertainment culture where inspiration (and capital) flow East to West grounds the narrative, even as the storytelling grows increasingly surreal.
Like Videodrome—surely Assayas’ major inspiration, although he also nods to the vintage spy games of the 1960s Avengers series—Demonlover gains speed as it goes along, and rejects coherence on the grounds that it’s inadequate to capture a pop-cultural moment awash in free-floating rage and paranoia. That’s also why the film’s cinematography, initially so sharp and clean, is degraded artfully into digital abstraction by the end—trapping Diane and the audience in a nightmare whose outlines and boundaries are finally, horrifically unclear.
Availability: Demonlover is available on DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased from the major digital services.