Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
If Olivier Assayas’ 1996 “Irma Vep” is about our reverent submission to fantasy, his 2002 “Demonlover” is about our cruel exploitation by it. The stately Connie Nielsen plays Diane, an executive for a pornography outfit who has been bribed by a competitor to sabotage a corporate partnership. Assayas, whose taste in actresses is unmatched, presents Nielsen as a doll-like object. He encourages us to project onto her our fantasies of beautiful actresses; in the process he initiates a dialog between the movie’s commentary and our natural (only half-conscious) response to the glamour of movies. Nielsen’s admirably opaque performance lures our projections; like Kim Novak in “Vertigo,” she’s a screen for our desires. Garbed in chic business wear, stalking through blue-gray offices, she’s a chilly workplace goddess — equally wanted and despised. It’s only later, when the narrative turns to animated Japanese erotica, that we recognize her bobbed hair as an anime trope; and at that point we can’t help but imagine her being cruelly violated by sea creatures, like the girls in the demonstration clips that Diane and her colleagues sample in Tokyo. When, in “Irma Vep,” Maggie Cheung dons the titular heroine’s iconic costume and takes to the Parisian rooftops, it’s a transcendent moment; she’s been freed into the space of her director’s vision, and in the process discovered a new facet of herself. (For Assayas, a movie star finds herself when she inhabits an archetype.) But here, when we see Nielsen wearing Diana Rigg’s getup from “The Avengers,” we know Diane is a prisoner: that she’s wearing it against her will, to gratify a customer’s wank fantasy. If the vision of movies presented in “Irma Vep” involves a process of dilation, as fetishes are expanded by passion and poetry, the vision of porn presented in “Demonlover” is one of terminal contraction. In it we see the fetish denigrated, made disposable by the inevitable refractory period. The final image is of Nielsen trapped on a TV screen, as a teen — a surreptitious smut consumer — fiddles with his homework. He’s not even looking at her. As Diane’s identity deteriorates, so does the movie’s form; it abruptly falls apart, and escapes our grasp.