Asia Minor

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Boarding Gate
Directed by Olivier Assayas
at Cinema Village

Asia Argento is Olivier Assayas’ latest wild child. In Boarding Gate, she plays Sandra, a corporate spy, dominatrix, prostitute, club kid and Parisian free spirit. But with that trashy Argento specialty of low-down unpredictability. Covered in tattoos and with morning-after circles under her eyes, she gets back at Miles (Michael Madsen) and Lester (Carl Ng), drug-smugglers who manipulated her trust and exploited her body. Assayas, still scoping out reckless young women as in Paris At Dawn, Irma Vep, Demonlover and Clean, confirms his fascination/repulsion when Miles says to Sandra: “Want a Beer? It’s not spiked but if it was you’d drink it anyway.”

There’s a cult ready to believe in Asia Argento as some zeitgeist demimondaine. They interpret her sluttiness as feminist courage; and Assayas, through a narrative replete with rape, drug binges, masturbation, murder and global dislocation, plays into this hipster sentimentality. Argento’s most interesting moment isn’t fingering her twat while telling Miles to repeat the word “slave”; it’s when she finally adduces her confused masochism and clarifies their relationship: “I don’t love you anymore. I desire you but I don’t love you.”

That confession seems credible; its contradictions recall the emotional feints in Wes Anderson’s Hotel Chevalier without being nearly so good as that indispensable 13-minute short that preceded The Darjeeling Limited. The DVD for The Darjeeling Limited just came on the market with zero fanfare, but the film’s excellence (first ignored by hipster critics) is worth noting in the context of Boarding Gate. Anderson’s short featured a wild child in Paris: Natalie Portman intruding upon boyfriend Jason Schwartzman’s escape to a five-star hotel. Her body is covered in bruises, signs of reckless physical encounters, she swiftly mounts him saying, “If we fuck, I’m gonna feel like shit in the morning.” And Schwartzman defies her vulgarity: “I don’t care.” Then she gets tender—without Argento’s coyness—and confesses: “I love you. I never hurt you on purpose.” Schwartzman answers, “I don’t care. Wanna see my view of Paris?”

This sour-sweet duet is tougher than anything in Boarding Gate where Assayas plays with sexual cynicism. He can’t reveal bad-girl Argento’s heart without first dragging it through muck. The entire film is a noir conceit—but not analytical like DePalma’s Femme Fatale. Argento’s underworld adventures are so boho chic (a fantasy of trafficking in crime, drugs, youth privilege) that anyone who’s seen the adult, demimonde tragedies of Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture will dismiss these clichés as camp. Assayas creates such an overblown hot-chick fantasy that he misses the lost-girl poignancy that makes Hotel Chevalier so moving and genuinely contemporary. When Anderson sweeps his lovers’ conflicted emotions into the trenchant folk-strumming of Peter Sarstedt’s exotic and melancholy “Where Do You Go To My Lovely?” it is an emotionally brave admission of the longing to connect—the humanity missing from Assayas-Argento’s freak show.

The worldly experience sought by Anderson’s estranged family and assorted globetrotters is reduced to disillusionment in this jaded crime thriller. The noir-ish milieu wastes the teeming excitement of Assayas’ facile visual style—the hand-held camera and swish-pans through glass and fluorescent lights that make an artificial world seem alive. He misses the authentic emotions that connect the piquant Hotel Chevalier to the plangent New Lost Generation details in The Darjeeling Limited. (The short isn’t better than Anderson’s feature; rather, it’s a clue to the feature’s troubled undercurrent.) Critics misread Wes Anderson’s film as insubstantial (“whimsical” meaning “wack”), but Boarding Gate’s decadent fancies are appalling.

Boarding Gate’s graphic-novel style and S&M titillation disgraces the real world of young-adult bewilderment with which Assayas began his career (as screenwriter of André Téchiné’s wild-child movie, Rendezvous). Some reviewers have foolishly compared Boarding Game to Fantomas, as if Assayas’ psychosexual girl-watching amounted to a modern neurotic legend. But Argento herself is too trite for such mythology; she’s tantrummy, not volatile. Her exploits are designed to glamorize the hostilities of privileged people—bohos whose passports and social status allow them to confuse leisure with rebellion.

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