| || ||Basest Instinct |
Erik Syngle on demonlover
In 1996’s Irma Vep, Olivier Assayas speculated—under various levels of self-conscious displacement and fictionalized self-referentiality—about the possibility of a contemporary remake of the Louis Feuillade serial Les Vampires (1916). In demonlover he jettisons the pretense and goes ahead and does it. Lacking Griffith or Chaplin’s contemporaneous Victorian tendencies, Feuillade’s films are now remembered as the first unabashedly 20th century strain of cinema: urban, mysterious, paranoid, criminal, and indecipherable. Demonlover begins with that world of espionage, of double agents and drugged damsels, and brings it into the 21st century of media and global capitalism. Luckily, Assayas is interested in more than just updating the technology of this old story. Like Antonioni 40 years ago, he’s trying to diagnose the contemporary moral landscape, and he finds that far more than Eros is sick these days. Like Béla Tarr ten years ago, this vision is only expressible as the infernal—Damnation or Sátántangó. As is evident from the very title, demonlover is a film that takes place in Hell. The literal location of this Hell is an “interactive torture website” apparently originating from Mexico in which women dressed as comic book heroines are strapped to metal beds and electrocuted according to the whim of the site’s subscribers. But this is only the Ninth Level in a tour that begins, in the film’s opening scene, onboard the first-class cabin of a transcontinental flight, the luxury seats reclining into coffins, punctuated by frequent cutaways to the hellish explosions from whatever Hollywood or Hong Kong product is displayed on the plane’s monitors. The visitor to this inferno of cold corporate glass and steel is the no-less-damned character played by Connie Nielsen; sometimes called Diane de Monx, she is in fact without name or origins. Manipulated and abused like a von Trier innocent, she intends to do the same to others—that is if she can figure out what side anyone is really on, including herself. Her boss is called “Wolf,” but her colleague (Charles Berling) looks like one, eats like one, fucks like one. David Thomson once wrote that Monica Vitti’s beauty was a sign of her spirituality in her Antonioni films, but Nielsen’s here is a sign of her soullessness, each successive couture design sagging off her body like rotting flesh, until her final black latex jumpsuit brings us right back again to her progenitrix, Feuillade’s Musidora. “Back to the primitive!” grunts a song blasted from a TV set, but we’ve been there all along, in a falsely sophisticated world of intellectual property negotiations and high-tech gadgetry more savage and primitive than the 2001 apes’ battles for watering holes.