Demonlover (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Two thumbs way down for a slickly produced but incoherent and ignorant movie.

Scoop's comments in white.

Sometimes one needs to form a lynch party to hang a hoss thief. and sometimes it's enough just to give him some rope. Let's skip the posse and let this movie hang itself, shall we?

From the press kit:

Director Assayas has defined art as "when you donít know where youíre going," and demonlover is a search for new forms, as the artist attempts to connect with the world around him; it may be that time itself has to catch up, as demonlover is a movie ahead of the moment.

From a promo kit provided by the film's US distributors:

Demonlover proves most compelling when it feels the least coherent or grounded in reality. Rather than keeping up with exactly which side of the game each major character appears to be playing on at a given moment in the story, viewers are almost better served just going along for the ride, letting the film take them where it will.

From an interview with the director:

I think demonlover tries to develop its own kind of narrative and its own way of dealing with very basic questions, like how do you represent modern reality? Isnít it time to question the classic tropes of storytelling, which were originally designed to deal with a world completely different from our own? I think itís useful, and possibly even important, to bring back some complexity to our representation of the world. Itís a way of bringing back a connection to reality that we seem to be losingóin cinema as well as in real life. Iím always a little surprised when people have trouble understanding in movies what they have no trouble dealing with in real life. I guess it has to do with the gradual disconnection between the world as it is changing and the old fashioned conventions of movie narrative.

I think you have figured out by now that the film makes almost no sense to most viewers because it was made by a guy who "doesn't know where he's going". It was booed at Cannes. Think about that. The French booed it for being a pretentious and incomprehensible piece of crap. The French cineastes. These are people who love the pretentious and incomprehensible Antonioni, people who in fact worship pretentiousness and opacity as virtues, and even they find this movie too pretentious and incomprehensible.

Now imagine how you will react.

To tell you the truth, I didn't have much trouble with the plot. I seemed to understand it, perhaps because I am as corrupt and jaded as the characters in this film. It is a film about corporate espionage. When the spy is outed, her company doesn't fire her, and the other company that she was trying to destroy doesn't consider prosecuting her. Instead, everyone decides to exploit her.

  • Her boss decides not to fire her because he'd much rather sexually exploit her. After all, what can she do? If she quits, he'll expose her. If she files a sexual harassment suit, he'll simply retaliate by exposing her various felonies, some of which are on tape.

  • The other company, which runs underground porno sites which specialize in heavy-duty torture, decides simply to use her as a victim in its films. It isn't easy to get people to perform in these things, after all, and she really has no choice but to go along or be exposed.

OK, to be honest, I would never actually do these things. I would have just fired her and turned her over to the police and the SEC - but by God these ideas would cross my mind if she looked like Connie Nielsen! So I understood the demented character motivations that most people with normal minds couldn't grasp. Therefore, while I found it as pretentious as everyone else did, I didn't find it all that baffling. Although I couldn't follow some plot points, and lost track of some details, I got the general idea.

What bothered me was something completely different: the utter ignorance of the writer/director. In theory, this is a film about big business using espionage to gain an advantage in the internet porno market. Unfortunately, Assayas knows absolutely nothing about any of the following:

  • Business

  • Corporate Espionage

  • Pornography

  • The Internet

These areas of ignorance make it rather difficult to make such a film effectively. Let's take a few examples.

Business - at a big ol' meeting, one company's rep tries to impress another company's honchos by saying, "since we talked last, our business is up 35% and our market share has doubled." Now this may not mean anything to you, but it does to me, because I actually spent a quarter of a century attending meetings like this, doing instant analysis of just such statements, and I can do basic arithmetic. Think about it for a second. If your market share has doubled with a 35% volume increase, what has happened to the size of the market?  You can do that on paper later, if you care to, but the answer is that the total market has decreased 32.5%. Needless to say, if you made such claims trying to impress me, my response would be "why the hell do I want to be in a business that has shrunk by one third in six months? Your market share has obviously gone up because people are dropping out of a loser business, and because competitors are dropping out, your volume has gone up temporarily as well, despite the shrinking market for your product." Now I guarantee you if you go to a high-level meeting and make those claims, there will be somebody in the room who will notice the true meaning of those figures immediately. Corporations pay guys just to attend these meetings and NOT be stupid.

Corporate espionage - so, do you think corporate espionage is done by people who carry guns, dress like Mrs. Peel, break into other people's homes, and poison the drinks of office rivals? Get real. Illegal corporate espionage means one of two very boring things.

(1) One company pays the employee of another company for information or to exert influence. This can be done during the regular course of business activities, without clandestine meetings or coded messages. People go to lunch all the time.

(2) Some geek sits in his house and hacks into the system of one company, then another company pays him for what he finds. This is far better than method number one above, because it offers complete deniabiity. The geek is not an employee of either company. He is an independent contractor working on his own. If he is caught, the company that would have purchased info from him doesn't even know who he is. If he is traced, the trace goes to his own computer, not to the offices of the company that benefits from his trickery. If anyone buys from him, they charge it off as "independent programming contractors".

Neither of these methods make for very good movie magic, and the participants probably look like Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. Not very sexy stuff. So directors want to show it all being done by sexy people in leather suits climbing walls like Spider-Man.

The Internet - the best line in the movie, referring to some internet torture site, The Hellfire Club: "that site is very hard to find, and very profitable". Yeah, those two things go hand in hand, don't they? You can really make a killing by making your web site impossible to find. Of course, there are some products, like yachts, which can make a lot of money despite being hard to obtain because the manufacturers make a phenomenal profit per item, but this is not a web site which costs $100,000 to be a member. We see some suburban kid paying for the site with his dad's credit card. Oh, and by the way, he didn't seem to have any trouble finding the site! Oh, those kids today, with their fancy dial-ups and their so-called "keyboards". I'll bet he used one of those fancy new-fangled things they call a URL. You know, like www.thehellfireclub.com.

Adult sites - Sure, just like this movie says, the adult internet business is just one big monolith, controlled by some big corporations with Lear Jets and fancy offices, all in league with the Russian mob. And we have to buy expensive Japanese animated porn to keep everything exciting. The next time you guys need any vodka or white slaves or anything, just let me or Mr. Skin know, and we'll bring them back from our next trip to Moscow. Gosh, I hope I can land my Sikorsky helicopter in your backyard when I deliver the goods. I think I can safely say that the guys who run worthwhile celebrity sites have no interest in barnyard animal sites, and even the barnyard animal guys have no interest in torture and snuff films. If you want to make a bazillion dollars on snuff films, you had better charge about a bazillion per film, because there's only about one guy actually interested in this kind of material.

If you think this director is no damned good, I have misled you. Assayas does know quite a bit about filmmaking. This movie will be incomprehensible to most people, but Demonlover does have a really cold and slick look and feel to it, similar to De Palma's Femme Fatale.

But ol' Assayas don't know jack shit about his subject matter. And that is something of a shame because he wants to comment on modern life, and he really has no clue what happens in modern life. Oh, sure, he could have brought in some businessmen and internet experts to advise him on how things really work - but that would have been too darned easy! More to the point, if he had done that he would have had to give up his ignorant point of view, and that point of view is what prompted him to make the film in the first place, so there wasn't any chance he was going to strive for any semblance of truth. He simply didn't want any facts to get in the way of his preconceived opinions and his alleged "art".

After I watched this film, I went to the critical summary sites to create the links for this page. Expecting lots of zero star reviews, I was flabbergasted to see that quite a few critics praised it, and some even gave it their highest rating. That is absolutely incredible to me. Although some parts of Demonlover look professional, this film is both utterly ignorant and incoherent. The facts were not researched, and the movement is directionless. In other words, it is incompetent at saying what it wants to say, and even if it had been coherent, what it wants to say is also pretty much 100% wrong!  It's hard to imagine a more juvenile film coming from a major director in his late 40s.

In addition to that, it is also smugly serious, pretentious, and filled with cold and detestable characters. See it at your own peril.

NUDITY REPORT

Connie Nielsen shows her buns and breasts.

Abi Sakamoto shows her buns

Chloe Sevigny is seen playing a video game stark naked, in theory, but nothing much is visible except part of one cheek.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

The filmmaker had no idea where the story would go when he started the film, and I submit that he still doesn't have an idea where the story goes. The first several scenes were coherent, if overly long, then the film degraded into nonsense and confusion.  It is hard to express how much I disliked this film. At no time did it capture my interest. It is only 5 hours since I finished it, and I don't remember how it ends. I guess there are some advantages to getting older.

DVD info from Amazon

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 2/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed about a quarter of a million dollars in the USA.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a very low C-. Very slick good-looking film that works fairly well for about the first half, then degenerates into incoherent cyberpunk babble. Our system forces us to give it a C-, since that provides the most accurate summary of the film, but we can't stress enough how completely we despised this lunatic rant.

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