on September 19, 2003 by Mark Keizer
Director Olivier Assayas returns to the Croisette for the first time since 2000's "Les Destinées Sentimentales" with "Demonlover", an inexplicable and wordy thriller that left Cannes audiences scratching their heads. What gets off to a promising start derails thoroughly due to confused plotting, lack of sympathetic characters and a pointless preoccupation with internet torture websites.

   Connie Nielsen ("Gladiator") toplines as Diane, the cinema's first secret agent/personal assistant. The film begins intriguingly as Diane, who works for the France-based Volf Group, poisons her boss' drink while the two fly from Tokyo to London. With the boss out of the way, Diane is installed to oversee Volf's takeover of TokyoAnime, a leading Japanese manga producer and recent convert to the wonders of 3-D pornographic imagery. Later, Diane is revealed to be a spy for MegaTronics, a competing company hoping to scuttle Volf's takeover attempt. Although such espionage and violence for control of a website seems farfetched, the first half reels in the audience with icy colors, big-money locales and the promise of more intrigue. However, in the second half, "Demonlover" completely falls apart. Endless scenes of contract negotiations and corporate wrangling seem especially meaningless. And as the violence and gunplay escalate, the story gets increasingly hysterical and begins to lose cohesion. At one point, Assayas takes a confounding detour with a five-minute montage of women being tortured on the internet. A little of this material goes a long way, but Assayas, in making his point, bludgeons the audience into not caring. Finally, no one in the story is likable. Everyone is a cold-hearted corporate automaton, leaving the audience with no one to root for. Attempts to fashion Diane as a 21st-century heroine influenced by computer images of powerful women are muddled.

   Admittedly, on a technical level, the film is extremely polished. DP Denis Lenoir's clean, slick stylings are beautiful, while rock group Sonic Youth provide the aggressive, occasionally effective score. Starring Connie Nielsen, Charles Berling, Chloe Sevigny and Gina Gershon. Directed and written by Olivier Assayas. Produced by Edouard Weil and Xavier Giannoli. No distributor yet. Thriller. Not yet rated. Running time: 129 min.

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