Monday, March 12, 2012


March is turning in to an Olivier Assayas kinda month. So far I've revisited and revised some of my views on his epic biopic; 'Carlos' and delved in to his (understandably) misunderstood film 'Demonlover' (a recent personal favorite of mine) and I have plans to write about 'Summer Hours' by the end of the month. After writing about 'Demonlover', I realized that in the last 10 years the basic idea of "a women in trouble" (something we've explored a few times here on PINNLAND EMPIRE through blog entries on Lars Von Trier and Black Swan) has been a recurring theme in Assayas' work. Not since 'Boarding Gate' (a movie I went from hating to loving in a matter of months back in 2008) has he gone back to this genre. His recent work seems to be focused more on political & social issues (Carlos, Summer Hours & Something In The Air). I guess 'Boarding Gate' was the final film in his "women in trouble trilogy" (Demonlover, Clean and Boarding Gate). Rarely do actors & artists that I like from different worlds end up together in one film. Somehow Olivier Assayas managed to make this possible with 2007's 'Boarding Gate' (another erotic espionage thriller/"woman in trouble" story in the same vein as his previous film; 'Demonlover'). I guess its not the biggest surprise that both Alex Descas and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) were in this (both had worked with Assayas twice before 'Boarding Gate'), but Asia Argento (who's slowly been growing on me over the years) and Michael Madsen (one of my favorite actors) co-starring in this just made my my day. Ever since 'Demonlover' Assayas has been reaching out to American actors more and more (Gina Gershon, Chloe Sevigny and Nick Nolte), so its nice to see him add an underrated actor like Michael Madsen to his roster. For the last decade it seems like Madsen will act in just about anything as long there's a paycheck attached to it. I mean, just look it his filmography on IMDB. If only more directors like Assayas would take note of Madsen's ability and screen presence he wouldn't be the king of director-to-video action/thrillers. In fact, I'd go so far to say that 'Boarding Gate' is Madsen's greatest performance to date (yes, better than Reservoir Dogs). And Asia Argento has been slowly becoming a regular in modern french/new french extremity films since 2007 working the likes of Catherine Breillat (The Last Mistress), Bertrand Bonello (On War) and Olivier Assayas. As I explained in previous write-ups (Irma Vep & Demonlover), the seeds of 'Boarding Gate' can be found in Assayas earlier work. In fact, 'Boarding Gate' and 'Demonlover' share the same basic plot: a female "spy" playing two sides against each other that ends up getting exposed and is eventually used by the people that she thought she could trust. Both films also include elements of S&M and our female lead getting caught up in a dangerous love affair that backfires in their face. In 'Boarding Gate' Asia Argento plays "Sandra"; a troubled women with a shady past (Assayas only hints at certain elements from her past) who's being used by her current employer; "Lester" (an import/export dealer that she's also having an affair with) to take out the competition/rival businessman; "Miles Rennberg" (Madsen). The only problem is that Sandra and Miles have history together. The two use to be a couple. And even though their relationship was pretty abusive and sexually twisted, she still has feelings for him and struggles with the fact that she has to kill him. A monkey wrench gets thrown in to the mix when Lester's wife discovers that he's been cheating on her with Sandra and she tries to sabotage their plans. Like 'Demonlover' there's plenty of double crosses, backstabs and plot twists, but UNlike Demonlover its much easier to follow.

What sets 'Boarding Gate' apart from other sex-driven, erotic thrillers ('Basic Instinct', 'Femme Fatale', 'Killing Me Softly', 'Wild Side', 'Crimes Of Passion', etc) is that Assayas manages to make an amazingly sexy movie with only a small amount of nudity (only two quick scenes of bare breasts) and no conventional sex scenes. Sure there's plenty of kissing, foreplay, risque shots and sensual moments but no actual sex.

In my opinion Michael Madsen's raspy, cool yet volatile performance alone deserves its own write up. He's honestly the highlight of the movie. Given the string of movies he appeared in between 1991-1993 (thelma & louise, reservoir dogs, species, free willy, etc) I'm surprised he never blew up (sure he has his cult status, but in my opinion he should be an A-list actor). As we all know he'll probably always be associated with the films of Quentin Tarantino for the rest of his career. But I'm not 20 years old anymore and I see through a lot of Tarantino's bullshit: long drawn out dialogue that's made to be cool for the sake of being cool but never actually goes anywhere (found in Kill Bill 2, Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds), the unnecessary amount of movie references (we get it, you watch a lot of movies), the cheap excuses to be excessively violent, etc. I don't want Tarantino or Tarantino-related films to be the only respectable work out there to feature Madsen. Thank god Olivier Assayas recognized his talent and made great use of his mannerisms and unique quirks that cant be found in any other actor. His character in 'Boarding Gate' draws a few parallels to Mr. Blond in 'Reservoir Dogs'. Both characters die within the first half of the movie but leave a lasting impression through the closing credits. Whenever Madsen raises his voice its always a treat because he rarely does it. The sudden projection of his voice in two specific scenes in 'Boarding Gate' is up there with Health Ledger's "LOOK AT ME!" moment in 'Batman Begins'. The rest of Boarding Gate's multinational ensemble cast (American, French, Italian and Chinese) features great (although short) performances from Kim Gordon as a tough crime boss and Alex Descas who only appears at the very beginning and end of the film but is still one of the key players in the story. Like in other films, Asia Argento has her annoying moments but overall she does a great job in the lead role. Like 'The Pornographer', 'Trouble Every Day' and 'Humanite', this is another recent french film that doesn't exactly have the most flattering reviews (a 5.1 on IMDB and 30% on Rotten Tomatoes) but if you're someone who enjoys the recent work of Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh or even Andrea Arnold's 'Red Road' (not to mention Olivier Assayas' recent filmography) I don't see how you cant like 'Boarding Gate'.


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