Finally got around to watching my Netflix rental of Olivier Assayas's Demonlover last night. Aside from the fact that I, once again, felt the need to wait until the roommates were out to indulge in a night of weird DVD viewing (this time around my ghettoized genre of choice was French cyberporn), I enjoyed the crap out of it--without exactly understanding it.
I know the concept of The Gaze in cinema is pretty overexamined and maybe even outmoded at this point, but I felt like this movie was doing some really interesting things to challenge, undermine, subvert, and pervert our conventional ways of approaching that idea, all the while implicating us more deeply in its psychological underpinnings than anything I've seen in recent memory. Although this is an incredibly contemporary film by virtue of its subject matter alone, I don't think it's too far a stretch, or too unreasonable a stretch, to read this story about interactive websites and the beautiful women exploited by and in them as a metaphor for the (by now) century-old conflict of what a director can do to and with beautiful women on camera. Are the tortures and humiliations endured by Connie Nielsen's character so much different from the tortures and humiliations endured by Connie Nielsen the actress in the process of making the film? Sure, she actively chose to be a part of this project and got paid to do it and I know nothing of Assayas's working relationship with his divas and whether it's as fraught with abusive undertones as stories you hear about Griffith, Hitch, Polanski, Kubrick, or **ahem** Gibson, but the result is, in effect, the same: we, the paying audience, derive a certain amount of pleasure from watching this woman we initially perceive as a powerful bitch goddess get sullied in innumerable nasty ways, be it professional, personal, or sexual. But, aye, there's the rub--just what is a "certain amount" of pleasure?
The Sonic Youth soundtrack is most excellent, and Chloe Sevigny (yes, speaking fairly decent French) turns in yet another enjoyable variation on the inscrutable administrative assistant role.
For those, like me, actively seeking to untangle the narrative and thematic mess here, Rosenbaum's capsule from the Reader is a good place to start, but, as always, he seems more interested in talking about the director's previous films and other movies that traffic in similar subject matter less as a way of honestly contextualizing Demonlover than as more of the same boring old intellectual masturbation. The Onion's capsule while typically packing a lot of ideas into an impossibly small space, ultimately takes the easy way out by privileging style over substance. Charles Taylor's review at Salon Dot Com is superlative, really engaging with the material with a tough-love attitude. (You may not be able to access it if you're not a subscriber to Salon, but you should be a subscriber to Salon anyway, so fuck you and whip out that credit card.)