Demonlover (2002)

Misunderstood when first released, this is one of Assayas’ most prophetic works, a cyber spy-thriller dealing with corporate espionage in the disturbing milieu of the burgeoning dark web and manga porn.    

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,527

Dir. Olivier Assayas
2002 | France | Drama/Mystery/Thriller | 121 mins | 2.35:1 | French, English & Japanese
Not rated – likely to exceed R21 guidelines for strong violence, sexual content and some language

Cast: Connie Nielsen, Gina Gershon, Chloe Sevigny, Charles Berling
Plot: Two corporations, Magnatronic and Demonlover, are fighting for exclusive control of a new form of revolutionary pornographic 3D manga to be used on the web. Magnatronic enlists up-and-coming executive Diane as a spy to infiltrate Demonlover and sabotage their rival in the lucrative sex industry.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Corporate Espionage; Dark Web
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

The first of his ‘international’ trilogy, which includes Clean (2004) and Boarding Gate (2007), Demonlover is perhaps Oliver Assayas’ most misunderstood work.  Here he tackles corporate espionage in the disturbing milieu of the dark web and manga porn.  Apparently, there are at least three versions of the film, including a director’s cut with less ‘pixelation’ of explicit material. 

Connie Nielsen plays Diane, a spy working for an American corporation who is neck-deep in infiltration mode in a French company.  Both organisations are hardcore competitors, hoping to land a lucrative partnership deal with a Japanese powerhouse that produces 3D manga porn. 

It’s the turn of the millennium and digital technology is changing how people produce and sell content. Demonlover explores the perverse side of the equation as Diane discovers that not only is she losing control of her narrative, but her sanity is at stake as well. 

“You didn’t see anything. No one sees anything.”

Nightmares become hyperreal as Assayas toys with psychological deception—it’s hard to think that a film like Verhoeven’s critically-acclaimed Elle (2016) would have existed without Demonlover

Much of Assayas’ film language feels ‘floaty’, fragmented and elliptical as if the film operates in a subliminal state.  At some point, we are unsure what is real or not—filmmakers past and present have tackled this dichotomy, but few have ‘grounded’ it in the realm of on/offline experiences as well as Assayas had done here. 

In hindsight, some may argue Demonlover to be a prophetic work despite its somewhat dated early 2000s video aesthetics.  As the dark web continues to rear its ugly head, where violent and sexual content becomes more commodified and less simulated, morality becomes as grey as the rabbit hole that Diane finds herself unable to escape.  

Grade: A-




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