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Palm Pictures presents
"No one sees anything. Ever. They watch, but they don't understand."
DVD ReviewI remember the first time I saw Eraserhead, and I was completely struck numb by David Lynch's complete and brilliant disregard for conventional storytelling. Here was a guy with a clear bent for the weird and weirder—that much was plainly obvious—and I felt invigorated in that he was perhaps leaving it up to me to decipher the deeper meaning of things, like exactly who or what the hell was the Lady in the Radiator. Though it teetered into the realm of bad boy art house stuff, I liked that off-kilter uncertainty, and I liked being in control of filling in the cracks. I felt the same way when after viewing a few of David Cronenberg films (eXistenZ, Videodrome, Naked Lunch): watching strange things without all the details was kind of fun.
This brings us to Demonlover.
On one level, this 2002 film from French writer/director Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep) is a straight-forward corporate thriller, set in the high-stakes world of Japanese anime porn and 3D technology. Diane (Connie Nielsen) is a ruthless cog in the wheel of VolfGroup, a shady French mega-corporation working to snag the lucrative distribution rights for a Japanese anime company that has developed some new cutting edge 3D software. Diane, who one character refers to as an "ice queen," is indeed appropriately cold, and in the opening minutes of the film she has calmly drugged an associate and arranged her kidnapping just so she can take over her biggest account. Her involvement with Elise (Chloë Sevigny), an equally detached underling who has her own dangerous agenda only adds to Diane's mounting problems and moral dilemmas. What follows is the expected double-crosses and unexpected alliances, all of which lead to Diane learning more than she wants to know about The Hellfire Club, a website that is described as an "interactive torture site—it's difficult to access, and very successful."
That's all well and good on the surface. But on another level—the one that makes me think of Lynch or Cronenberg—is that Assayas has apparently made Demonlover difficult to follow and slightly incoherent on purpose. From a strictly aesthetic standpoint, Assayas and cinematographer Denis Lenoir made a visually powerful film; it just so happens to confuse and leaves more questions unanswered than answered. But it looks darn good doing it, and the frenetic Sonic Youth music on the soundtrack really enhances the detached techno vibe of the story.
For me, Assayas' Demonlover conjures up glimmers of Lynch and Cronenberg at times, because it brings to mind the same stream of disjointed storytelling combined with compelling visuals. The comparisons lie largely in the fact that these attractive looking films require the viewer to think, and to make some sense of what is occurring onscreen, without being spoon-fed all of the answers. Assayas isn't necessarily a nightmarish art house visionary, but Demonlover is one of those left-of-mainstream thrillers that tries hard to be daring and unclear, and it does manage to succeed more often than not.
This film made me think a little, and I enjoyed the process of being invited to do so. I had no problem with not particularly caring for any of the main characters, all of whom are reprehensible in their own way; I found that kind of refreshing. I didn't always understand clearly what was going on, but like a Lynch or Cronenberg film, I didn't care.
I just liked watching.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Well. I may not exactly be 100% clear on just what the story was about, but I do know that at the very least it was a beautiful looking film; Denis Lenoir's icy blue cinematography looks properly machine-like and distant on this techno-washed out 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. No noticeable compression artifacts, and the print itself is debris free.
Very, very nice.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: I suppose technically this would be considered a French language 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track, though at any given moment characters may be speaking French, English or Japanese. Regardless of what you call it, it is an appropriately aggressive one, full of active rear channel cues and well-placed directional pans. The score is built around some gritty techno-electronica, with aging groundbreakers Sonic Youth also contributing some feedback-laden sounds, and it all reverberates very, very loudly, adding to the discordant, off-balance feel of the film. Character voices are cleanly mixed, and even whispered dialogue is easily understandable.
A noticeably less robust 2.0 French surround track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Director's Series, Vol. 1 - The Work of Director Spike Jonze, Director's Series, Vol. 2 - The Work of Director Chris Cunningham, Director's Series, Vol. 3 - The Work of Director Michel Gondry, Sex and Lucia, The Eye, Morvern Callar
Extras Review: Those expecting additional plot clarity and explanations in the extras section will come away disappointed, unless you happen to speak French, that is. A series of interviews with cast members Nielsen, Sevigny, Charles Berling and director Assayas is presented in French, without subtitles, so I have no clue what they were talking about. I can only hope they explained something to someone.
In addition to some eye-popping trailers (specifically the collected works of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry), the disc is cut into 17 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English or Spanish.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThis film looks terrific, has two extremely watchable performances from Connie Nielsen and Chloë Sevigny, but is too clinically detached to make me care about anything that happened, even if by chance I actually understood exactly what was happening. Director Olivier Assayas and D.P. Denis Lenoir show off what seems like some kind of wise guy melding of identifiable fragments of Hitchcock, Lynch, and Cronenberg (and maybe a little Carol Reed thrown in for good measure) into a spiraling and confusing tale that admittedly is damn near impossible to look away from.
I liked what I saw. I'm just not sure what it was.
Recommended for adventurous viewers only.
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