Movie review: 'Demonlover'

3 stars (out of 4)

Olivier Assayas, maker of intense French psychological dramas ("Late August, Early September"), novelistic epics ("Les Destinees") and fondly nostalgic backstage films ("Irma Vep"), is one of the last people you'd expect to try his hand at a sexy cyber-porn thriller. But Assayas' latest, "Demonlover," is an erotic shocker subversively divided against itself, a film that is as much about sex and violence as it is a showcase for them.

Set during negotiations for a French company's purchase of TokyoAnime, a popular Japanese sex-adventure manga (comics) factory now heavily into 3-D porn, it's about a corporate spy (Connie Nielsen) who gets pulled deeper and deeper into a maze of intrigue and betrayal, and winds up at the mercy of the forces she initially manipulates.

"Demonlover" refers to the cartoon, but more sinister sites are at work - including The Hellfire Club, a site named after a famous British aristocrats' sex club, specializing in bloody sadomasochistic sexual fantasies. With the international cast (including Frenchman Charles Berling and Americans Nielsen, Chloe Sevigny and Gina Gershon) we get a sense of worldwide corruption - which feeds, Assayas suggests, off our sick fantasies and ravages our institutions.

I first saw "Demonlover" at Cannes; a second look makes it seem richer and more cohesive. The film is best enjoyed from a detached perspective, one that allows you to pick out political and cinematic ironies among the stylized thriller conventions. Unlike almost every other sexy modern thriller (especially most recent studio blockbusters), this one gives you a lot to think about.

In English and French with English subtitles. Running time: 2:09. MPAA rating: R (sex, violence, language).

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