Click Here to Find Me


You want to torture ZORA?
Send us your fantasy and we will make it real.

ZORA_IS_STORM_OF_THE_X-MEN
TWO_MUTANTS_NEUTRALIZE_HER_SUPERPOWERS
SHE IS BOUND TO A METAL BED
ONE…

Olivier Assayas gets the spirit of the modern American teenager better than most when, in the epilogue of his film Demonlover, he depicts a teenage boy in a UCLA t-shirt using his father’s stolen credit card to dictate superhero latex fantasies on the Hellfire Club website (linked to from the fictitious demonlover.com ). Earlier we see Wonder Woman strapped to bed springs in the midst of her tortures, and this time it will be Storm. Wonder Woman and Storm are unsurprising symbols to find in this film – current long, circular, tortuous, and rarely levelheaded debates between socially conscious comics bloggers notwithstanding – as the pornutopic imagination that spawned Wonder Woman in the first place originally imagined her as a character in threat of constant bondage. Moreover, Storm started off as an African “Goddess,” but in a late eighties make-over by fan favorite perv, Chris Claremont, she came into her own as a leather-bound, mohawked, fetish figure (for more, see his magnum opus, Storm of the Arena — the comic run that definitively proved, for a few minutes, Fredric Wertham right). Strength brought low by a design flaw in character,* tragic hubris, blah blah blah, whatever.

“Wonder Woman” strapped to a bed prior to electro-torture.
The text flashing across the screen:
Click Here to Find Me


Demonlover
is a little more complicated than some story about either flawed will or indomitable wills. Comic properties are only glanced at here. More important are hard-core sex sites on the internet and pornographic animé. Assayas gets it right because his film is a thoughtful attempt to figure what exactly America, France, and Japan’s respective places are in a the global economy of fantasy. It’s a prescient movie which prefigured many of the debates that broke out in 2007 and 2008 over gendered representations in pop art, including uncannily assimilating recent discussions about anime, porn and hentai.
But back in 2002 when this film appeared at Cannes to be largely ignored or stared at blankly, the place of fantasy, free time, credit, pornography and exploitation hadn’t lined up yet in a way that would allow people to make sense of it. The response at the premier was tepid indifference. Reportedly, the movie was a beautiful thing about ugly events that reviewers did not find legible. This was not like when Assayas mined France’s film history by sampling from Les Vampires for Irma Vep (1996). None of the materials depicted in Demonlover is second nature to any one culture.

Elise Lipskey corporate sabotages herself
with many fug blouses in this film.

Demonlover is a thriller, featuring the corporate sabotage of Diane de Monx (Connie Neilsen) as she attempts to sour a three-way deal between French businessman Henri-Pierre Volf (Jean-Baptiste Malartre) and TokyoAnime, as well as potential American distributors at demonlover.com on behalf of her secret American bosses at Mangatronics. Diane drugs and ambushes her opponents and wars in-house with her assistant, Elise Lipsky (Chloe Sevigny) while flirting with Hervé Le Millinec (Charles Berling). Diane quickly finds herself in over her head as her place gets trashed, she ends up in a murderous cat-fight with Gina Gershon, is eventually raped and finds herself sent off to be tortured at a rape camp. Heavy stuff!

Is this movie sexist? It’s hard to judge that when you’re looking at how abstract concepts about gender materialize, and even harder when you’re looking at this process in a movie. In the tradition of Barbaralla, this is a French ‘sploitation movie. So, yeah, probably it is. Still, what’s interesting about this movie is as technology advances — as the global economy becomes increasingly interdependent such that no one nation produces, manages and disseminates at the same time — the gendered stereotype of the rape-ready female body persists. Sketch art, cartooning, etc are methods of essentializing relations between people, refining them as one would refine perfume so that, for example, gender relations translate fluidly between Japan’s TokyoAnime’s 3-D labs, to the French board room (why are French corporate offices so much more stylish than American ones?) and down to teenage American boys’ bedrooms, eventually landing in Mexico-based white slavery camps. The question of child porn comes up in the plot only in terms of liability.

The French demand guarantees that none of the animations they buy can be based on drawings using under-age models. When the Japanese object that their images are not of under-age girls, they are forced to explain that representations of pubic hair are illegal in Japan. The French find this difficult to believe, but aren’t motivated by ethical concerns. They make it quite clear that they want as little information as possible, only legal guarantees that would void the deal should allegations of under-age models ever be proved.

Elise unwinds with her PS2. Ditches blouse.

There is what one might call a ‘feminist’ thesis to the film, though a controversial one. Basically, it holds that at one end of the international division of labor, there sits a bored sado-masochistic American teenage consumer living off his parent’s credit. At the other end is an exploited, often tortured female body performing manual labor. That’s kind of an extension of the MacKinnon anti-porn position, for which I have quite a bit of sympathy even if I am ambivalent about some of its assumptions. In my opinion, where her argument falters is that she has a difficult time expressing exactly what a material harm might be outside of a simple tort.

Coda: Thanks to Joss Whedon, we can now enjoy…

You’ve come a long way baby. (Astonishing X-Men #23)


* Connie Nielsen on her character Diane: “C’est quelqu’un qui prend des choix auxquelles elle n’est vraiment pas prepare, ni emotionellement, ni physiquement. Elle n’a pas la force, au fait, de sa propre choix. Et, elle decouvre ca un peu tard.”

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