Demonlover is the kind of film that wants to make you feel stupid for not liking it. French writer-director Olivier Assayas has crafted a dense and often confusing film about technology, corporate espionage and sexual exploitation, and he's clearly got a lot to say on these subjects. If you can figure out what that is, then you'll probably get some enjoyment out of the film. More likely, though, you'll end up befuddled and annoyed.
The film starts promisingly enough with a nice new-global-economy feel, like one of those sci-fi novels that takes place 10 minutes into the future. Corporate shark Diane (Connie Nielsen) works for French company the Volf Group, an amorphous entity that invests in all sorts of cutting-edge ventures. It negotiates the acquisition of Japanese animation company TokyoAnime, at the forefront of the Asian animated pornography market. Two American companies, Demonlover and Mangatronics, are vying for Internet rights to this lucrative porn of the future.
Diane, it turns out, is a spy for Mangatronics, and she gets drawn into a plot involving a mysterious secretary Elise (Chloe Sevigny) and colleague Herve (Charles Berling). At first, the story is intelligible: It's a cold but engaging thriller about technological intrigue. But once Diane discovers the Hellfire Club, an interactive S&M website run by the same people who operate Demonlover, the story takes a turn for the Lynch-ian, as characters are not who they seem, conspiracies are revealed (or alluded to), and Diane finds herself a pawn of the very people she's trying to sabotage.
This should be an incredibly cool film, and Assayas populates it with beautiful actresses (including an extended cameo by Gina Gershon), stylized violence and lots of sex. Nielsen is masterful as the cold, manipulative Diane. But Assayas takes such a distance from his material and characters that it's hard to care what happens to them. And once the story stops making sense, it's hard to care at all. This is a movie that willfully confuses its viewers as a sort of challenge, but offers no concrete payoff.
Assayas takes on grand themes, trying to make a sweeping statement about capitalism, globalization and the commodification of sex and violence, but his film plays like an art-school version of Feardotcom, as he says a lot to cover up the fact that he doesn't really know what he's talking about.