Demonlover: If William Gibson wrote Story of O

I recently rented Demonlover, a French film about two corporations fighting over the rights to 3D adult anime created by a Japanese corp. It had a very William Gibson feel to it, with ruthless corporate dogs angling for each other’s throats over obscure products/services. The lead, Connie Nielson, looks a LOT like Diana Rigg in the Avengers, and even dresses in the same form-fitting bodysuits that Rigg did in the Avengers.

As the story progresses the plot gets twistier and twistier, and Nielson gets deeper and deeper in it, and at one point it pretty much jumps the rails. I actually think the story at that point wasn’t entirely off the rails, with Nielson’s character paralleling O in Story of O as she becomes more and more caught up in corporate sexuality, rather than bondage sexuality.

I rented the film thinking it was just another mediocre erotic thriller. I was wrong. It’s tasty stuff. Did anybody else see it? If so, your thoughts?

Slightly off topic (okay, so it might be really off topic), but when I was in San Francisco a little over a year ago, I went to the museum of modern art. They had a small exhibit of a Japanese Anime character design that an artist (or artists? I can’t remember) had bought and then many different artists used the character in some way. The idea was that here was this psuedo-person type thing that you could inject any personality or speech into. It was interesting.
Sorry, though, I haven’t seen the movie so I really have nothing relevant to add.

I’m gonna bump my thread here because I’m so sure the reason it’s got only one reply that’s kind of a hijack is that it was posted over the Memorial Day weekend and nobody was home to see it … yeah, that’s it … nobody home. I mean … Connie Nielson! Chloe Sevigny! Gina Gershon! Serious babe talent in a seriously kinky yet seriously good flick here.

I saw this film in the theater six months ago, so much has faded, but I do remember being intrigued by the set-up, but slowly losing patience with the many fairly obvious things the film was saying about corporate culture, desensitization to violence, moral hypocrisy, etc. The film held my interest for a while, but after realizing its tired themes were simply dressed up in hip packaging, I found the things I liked about the film mattered less and less.

I’ve never been very impressed by Assayas, though he has his defenders. I find that his characters are very often quite unsympathetic, which isn’t necessarily bad, but this obliges him to say something provocative or original to hold our interest, since we can’t readily identify with anybody. Instead, I find his observations generally predictable (and even banal at times), and his gift at characterization threadbare. Most of his other films I’ve seen are generally plotless, so demonlover (which has what one might actually call a story) demanded a facility with pacing and general structure that seemed beyond his abilities.

That isn’t to say the film isn’t interesting–it has a corrosive tone that gradually slides into some genuinely nightmarish moments, and it does provoke some timely questions (though it fails to actually address them effectively). Essentially, Cronenberg did the same thing a whole lot better 20 years ago in a film that was sicker, sadder, funnier, and (for the time) much edgier without the pretensions that demonlover is burdened with.

I saw this at last year’s Seattle film festival (in the current iteration of which I am currently ensconced, up to my eyeballs), and like ArchiveGuy, I wasn’t impressed at all. I did like Assayas’s Irma Vep quite a bit, but demonlover was obvious, disjointed, and occasionally downright irritating. The turning point for me was the scene in which Chloë Sevigny points a gun on Connie Nielsen in the car: I thought how odd it is to see the defiantly indie-oriented actress Sevigny holding a gun in a lame technothriller, which seems like exactly the sort of thing she’s refused to do for Hollywood, and I thought, hey honey, it doesn’t make it any better if it’s a European production with some “edgy” ingredients but the movie is otherwise exactly the same. From then on, I slouched back into my seat and rolled my eyes with great regularity. And yeah, Videodrome is a hundred times the movie this one is.

I saw that. It was pretty cool. There’s apparently a couple firms in Japan that just draw anime characters and rent them out for advertising purposes, with no associated back-story or personality to go with them. So a group of artists bought the rights to one wholesale, each did a work of art around her, and then the rights to her image were locked away so that no one can ever use her again, in effect “killing” her.

I must of watched that one video of her walking through a series of continually-computer generated mountains for twenty minutes. Wish I could remember what the voice-over said.

Sorry, nothing to add to the topic, but hey! Free bump!

A person’s tastes are their tastes and I wouldn’t dream of disputing them, as I find myself at odds with just about everybody over the films I like, and find myself annoyed that others sometimes think there’s some collection of ideas ot words that are more valid than my personal responses to a film. So I won’t dispute the tastes of others.

But let me explain further what I saw in Demonlover. When I used the term "as if William Gibson had written Story of O in the thread title, I wasn’t just making a metaphor. I meant exactly that – watching Demonlover was like reading one of William Gibson’s novels or short stories. Many of the elements that made Gibson’s stories interesting to me were present in Demonlover, in fact, Demonlover realized them much more powerfully than movies that are based on actual Gibson stories, such as Johnny Mnemonic.

Frex, “Count Zero” and “Neuromancer” the novels that made Gibson famous, were set in a near future where international corporations are engaged in ruthless struggles to be the ones who make the next big score. The protagonists are generally outsiders, cowboys who use their particular array of skills to snatch off a chunk of the kill under the greedy eyes of the corporations, often while helping them score. Japan is frequently a nexus for these goings-on.

If you’ve seen Demonlover, you know this is exactly the plot of the movie: the main characters are employees of a ruthless French corporation looking to get its hands on the Next Big Thing, which is apparently 3D hentai. (OK, I’m biased here, I wrote an article predicting this would be the next big thing in hentai a couple of years ago, though I didn’t think it would be sufficiently big to be the target of multinational corporations). Another huge multinational is taking a run at the same technology, and it’s very much a bare-knuckles competition.

Connie Nielson plays Diane, the outsider in the mix, and she does a great job with the role. She always seems to be cautiously assessing what’s going on around her, trying to figure out who’s got her back and who’s just looking for a good spot to plant a knife, and not really trusting anyone.

The thing that really fuels the mix is the Gold Rush sensibility of the corporations and the people working for them. The French corporations, the American partners that they bring in to swing the deal, the Japanese corporation that has come up with products using the new tech – all of them are clearly motivated by the sense that there’s huge corporate and personal wealth to be had from this tech. Other films like Johnny Mnemonic have centered around new tech that promises great wealth, but they haven’t done much of a job of conveying the pervasive lust for that wealth – mostly it’s just Evil Bad Guys who lust for the bucks with the good guys not caring that much for it, they just wanna do the right thing.

But in Demonlover everybody is either working to get their hands on the Big Bucks or have succumbed to its power in some way, no longer actively seeking the bucks but enthralled by it nonetheless. This strikes me as a more accurate picture of a ruthless corporation than the more traditional moviemaker’s viewpoint. It does make it harder to present the protagonist as a sympathetic person, but more on that later. You can see the corporate greed early on, when Diane slips some knockout drugs into a co-worker’s drink during a business trip so she can be “abducted” just long enough to miss out on the 3D anime deal, leaving Diane to replace her on it. It’s not just that Diane is willing to use such underhanded tactics, it’s that Diane’s boss is utterly ruthless as well. He announces that the woman who’s been “kidnapped” is “probably going to wind up in the real estate division” with the same finality that you announce someone’s death with. She’s out of the money, no longer on the corporate fast track that leads to the big bucks, so she might as well be dead in his eyes, and he no longer cares about her.

It turns out that Diane and the woman who got drugged and Diane’s boss and even her secretary are Not Who They Seem To Be at the beginning of the film. Not at all. That’s par for the course for Gibson, and for thrillers generally. But their Not Who They Seem To Be-ness also has to do with their involvement in a darker theme involving a site called “Hellfire” that is live-action and not wholesome at all. This is also a Gibson theme, with the characters in Neuromancer encountering artificial intelligences lurking in cyberspace that behave a lot like the gods associated with voodoo.

This is where the film’s other theme comes into play, the sexual dominance and submission element. I think that the point at which everybody says the story jumps the shark is where the Story of O theme comes in – when the secretary pulls the gun on Diane. I found this kinda jarring, too, and could probably have been handled better. Story of O (the novel, the movie didn’t handle things too well). O starts out in a vanilla romantic relationship with Sir Stephen, who keeps asking her to do more and more submissive stuff, eventually getting through bondage and sadomasochism to full-out sex slavery, and the book is really about O’s process of self-discovery as she repeatedly learns she IS the sort of woman who will not only do the things Sir Stephen asks of her, but enjoys doing them.

Diane’s progress in the story isn’t so blatantly sexual, but there’s the same sense of progression as she goes from cowboy to … what she winds up as. I’d say it’s a logical progression, if your logic is sexual in nature, which is why I don’t think the story jumps the tracks.

There are a lot of subtle notes throughout the movie – when the woman who gets kidnapped says afterward to Diane’s “secretary”, “I feel so dirty and used – as if I had been raped” she may be referring to the kidnapping, or she may be referring to something else that reflects on later revelations about her in the story. And the shift in view from who is playing who for what is very nicely done.

Sorry, guys, this is a really good film. I think the thing that would have taken it over the edge would have been letting Diane be more of a sympathetic character, just as Gibson’s protagonists, for all their wild, dangerous cowboy ways, are sympathetic, and just as O, for all her innate submissiveness, is sympathetic. But that’s a minor flaw in an overall excellent film.