Feb 18, 2008

On Boarding Gate

A lower key, appealingly absurd riff on the same erotic, globalization era techno thriller he first brought us in 2002's explosive Demonlover, meta-auteur Olivier Assayas' newest fun house of pomo woman in trouble mess Boarding Gate is nothing if not art cinema made fun and sleazy. Fortunately it's so much more.

Assayas is a boundlessly resourceful director and in this tale, ripped from the headlines according to the fifty-two year old filmmaker, he uses his signature loose, sensual, montagy style to represent what is essentially a lurid and oblique crime story, full of people with secrets and double agendas, whose longings to fulfill the need for human intimacy and love come smack up against the system of international capital and wealth distribution that binds all of us to a sick and untenable game of craps, where we are all both needy human actors and mere commodities to be traded or disposed of. Working quickly on a low budget with largely foreign crews and without either of his usual DPs Eric Gautier or Denis Lenoir, Assayas' film harkens back to the skid row auteurs of the post war Hollywood, whose work was first heralded by Assayas 60's forefathers at Cahiers Du Cinema. Assayas the critic and theorist dukes it out with Assayas the pulpy genre hopper again!

Sometimes a prostitute, sometimes a shipping clerk, sometimes a thwarted coke dealer, Sandra (Asia Argento) visits her newly divorced ex-lover and pimp Miles (vintage Michael Madsen), a Paris based financial bigwig on the downside of his career. Much of the first half of the movie is a series of long chamber set pieces, the films pulse at a slow, simmering burn, Assayas shifty camera twisting slowly around his two ex-lovers as they spar, physically and emotionally, in the sterile modern office that Miles keeps (and that are particularly fetishized in the Assayas oeuvre), then in his equally numbing modern apartment. These scenes are heavy on exposition, but never less than enthralling, Madsen and Argento verbal tussling buoyed by Assayas stylish mounting.

Sandra wants Miles to buy her a club in Beijing as he promised to do in exchange for a series of dangerous and ultimately call girl gigs she's did to gain information from Miles' rivals. He wants her to stay with him in Paris. Unfortunately for Miles, as the temperture of their conflict rises to a sadomasochism boil, Sandra has one secret that will spell his demise and her swift departure, arranged by her current lover, contract killer and shipping executive Lester Wang (Carl Ng), to Hong Kong. Having been in Hong Kong for little more than a blink of an eye, Sandra is captured by murderous Hong Kong gangsters, led by a Cantonese barking Kim Gordon (whose Sonic Youth provided the score for Demonlover). Sandra quickly escapes Ms. Gordon's clutches and sets out to track down Lester and exact revenge for being set up.

Genre creatures in a loopy thriller like this rarely resonate with the depth of feeling Madsen and Argento create in their scenes together, which, like the eight minute dinner sequence and murder that concludes the second act of Demonlover, are marvels at how to stage and direct two primarily stationary bodies engaged in the most deadly of psychological and sexual warfare. Ng, Gordon and Hong Kong star Kelly Lin all inhabit their roles with an equaly amount of panache and immediacy.

Assayas has a gift for coaxing fearlessness out of his female leads, as he did with ex-wife Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep and Clean, for which she won best actress from Quintin Tarantino's 04' Cannes jury. Actresses like Virginie Ledoyen, Connie Nielsen and Gina Gershon have done their best work for Mr. Assayas. This time out, hes found the perfect female muse for his particular brand of arty genre cinema. I'm not sure when Asia Argento transcending her occasionally bizrre public persona and became the fine actress that she is. She's always been resourceful and gutzy, with a face born for cinema. Not only in the films of her father Dario, but in pictures as varied Abel Ferrera's New Rose Hotel, George Romero's Land of the Dead and Rob Cohen's XXX she's shown promise without being given enough of a character to make it count. She was used largely as wallpaper by American auteurs like Gus Van Sant in Last Days or the debacle that was Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Clearly, with this and two other films which were at Cannes last year, Ferrera's Go Go Tales and Catherine Brelliat's The Last Mistress, she has hit her stride.