As far as modern film visionaries go, Olivier Assayas is a master builder. Films like the go-for-broke movie-biz escapade Irma Vep, resonate coming-of-age film Cold Water, five-hour-long Carlos the Jackal biopic Carlos, and his recent supernatural drama Personal Shopper construct cinematic experiments on top of traditional premises that still grab the most mainstream moviegoer. Most people will go see “the Kristen Stewart ghost movie,” but in Assayas’ hands, the plots, emotions, and critical observations always swerve into unexpected places.
The French director’s 2002 demonlover might take his sharpest turns. Often described as a postmodern neo-noir, the film stars Connie Nielsen (Gladiator, Wonder Woman) as Diane de Monx, a corporate spy hoping to swing control of the global adult animation market to her employer, Mangatronics. To do so, she infiltrates the executive levels of the Volf Corporation, drugs her boss, assumes control of the company’s major clients, and brokers a deal to license a Japanese animation studio’s 3D CG hentai. With the assets secured, negotiations begin with the equally shady Demonlover, an American hentai porn distribution company — but Diane’s deception doesn’t fly under the radar. Her business partner Hervé (Charles Berling), assistant (Chloë Sevigny), and everyone involved with Demonlover have their own secrets. The nature of their product — hypersexual, hyperviolent, hypersurreal — only creates a more crushing effect to the capitalist game of cat and mouse.
After adapting Jacques Chardonne’s early-20th-century-set Les Destinées sentimentales with a classic costume drama trim, Assayas apparently threw himself into the depths of early 2000s technology and entertainment to create a film that could mirror the rapidly changing, corporate-backed pop landscape of the moment. The result is a film that, while dated in its references to anime and video games, predicts the oppressive power of screens as a conduit for extreme imagery. The employees vying for the next great animated bondage video feel nothing as they debate the legality of certain sexual violence, predict the viability of hardcore pornography in the market, and wonder just how long their website sexslavelaracroft.com can survive before Eidos will sue (yes, really). Set to an original score by Sonic Youth, Assayas’ story spans the globe to examine the troubling ways that media and the internet can work on and sometimes erode us.
In February, Janus Films will present a new 2K restoration of demonlover’s unrated director’s cut that will run in virtual cinemas across the country. But being virtual, the bounds of location are no longer applicable to one’s ability to see this strange, radical movie — a notion that probably makes Assayas chuckle. Tickets for the first wave of screenings can be found at New York’s Film at Lincoln Center. New screening updates will appear on Janus’ website. For a taste of the film, watch our exclusive trailer premiere above.