Boarding Gate (Magnet Releasing/Magnolia, R)

boarding75.jpgJust as Asia Argento walking around in her underwear holding a gun wouldn’t have worked without Assayas. I know you probably beg to differ about the latter, but Assayas keeps Argento in check, guiding her throughout the film with mesmerizing results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The career path that Olivier Assayas, writer/director of Boarding Gate, has mapped for himself isn’t one to be taken lightly. Like the greats of French cinema, he originated as a film critic before embarking upon making films of his own. After a series of modest accomplishments, he reached his pinnacle in 1996 with his rousing satire Irma Vep starring his ex-wife Maggie Cheung. From there, he directed a documentary about Hou Hsiao-hsien, a mediocre thirtysomething comedy called Late August, Early September and a period drama with Isabelle Huppert and Emmanuelle Béart entitled Les Destinées. It was only after these endeavors that he got the well-deserved attention he had from Irma Vep with demonlover, which a fellow critic best described as “a corporate girls-gone-wild thriller.”

Among French and American critics, demonlover was hotly debated, both praised and reviled for its lofty ambition and absence of morality. With Boarding Gate, he returns to his themes of globalization, an issue that’s present in all of his films, with the pretense of a glossy, multilingual thriller. Taking cue from the human element of his previous film Clean, Assayas reexamines demonlover, retooling its amorality into something that, just maybe, has a soul.

Enter Asia Argento, the world’s leading screen siren. More so than with any other director she’s worked with (especially her father), Argento reaches a perfect understanding with Assayas, a relationship of mutual respect.
Boarding Gate without Asia Argento wouldn’t have worked, just as Asia Argento walking around in her underwear holding a gun wouldn’t have worked without Assayas. I know you probably beg to differ about the latter, but Assayas keeps Argento in check, guiding her throughout the film with mesmerizing results. As Sandra, the jilted ex-lover of business tycoon Miles Rennberg (Michael Madsen), Argento carries herself as if in a daze, or after taking one too many Xanax pills, delivering her lines in a raspy mumble and with a hazy, dripping sexuality. This might appear typical of her acting style, but under Assayas’ vision, she’s a haunting figure, determined whilst damaged. She never lets you know too much about Sandra, and it’s for that reason that our interest remains on her during the course of the film.

In so many ways, Boarding Gate is a French parody of a thriller. Nothing “thrilling” really happens until about two-thirds of the way into it, and the film calls to mind more of a sleazed-up version of Godard’s Contempt or Antonioni’s La Notte than any of the Bourne films. Boarding Gate is, at its core, a jagged-edged relationship drama with the thriller aspect merely a case of smoke and mirrors. Additionally, Assayas appears to use Argento in ways a bit less fetish-y than he does with Connie Nielsen and Chloe Sevigny in demonlover. In both films, the women play the active roles, both violent and calculating, but Argento’s Sandra feels less sexualized than the women of demonlover because Assayas appears to have grasped a better understanding of women between the films.

Certainly, it’d be hard not to use the term “Eurotrash” when speaking of Boarding Gate, but it’s still far more astute and complex than most people give it credit for. For all its lusty pretense, Boarding Gate is just as strong as Clean in its depiction of a woman picking up the pieces of her past mistakes in the difficult effort to start, well, clean. | Joe Bowman

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