Olivier Assayas' "Boarding Gate" can be seen as a direct companion to his 2002 film, "demonlover". Both films are thrillers in the loosest sense, situating a sultry and headstrong female lead smack dab in the middle of a multi-national, multi-continent series of shoot-outs, drugging and double and triple crosses. This time, the responsibility lies with actress Asia Argento. Broken into two parts, "Boarding Gate's" first half pits Argento and former pimp/lover/boss Michael Madsen against each other in a war of psycho-sexual wordplay and sadomasochistic foreplay first in his office, then later at his home. The second half finds Argento landing in China and abruptly being held hostage and then attacked by a series of baddies (led by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon!) as she attempts to reconnect with new boyfriend and international businessman Lester (Carl Ng).There's no higher schizophrenic shift than in this film. While there are hints of the international intrigue to come in the first half through a brief longueur depicting Argento's business of drug importing, the second half dispenses with explanation and becomes an abstract espionage thriller as Argento is propelled through a foreign city, over and down its rooftops and having to carefully choose who she believes are her friends and who has used her. All of this is captured with Assayas now trademark visual style- loose, handheld cameras that seem to be searching for something within the frame, deep near focus shots that keep everything around the periphery fuzzy, and sharp jump cuts that continually force the viewer to reassess his or her understanding of time and place. The locations are the similar as well. In his early films, Assayas was comfortable with the interior browns and greens of personal home life. With "demonlover", "Clean", and now "Boarding Gate", the milieu is clear exterior shots, hotel rooms, glass office buildings that threaten to pummel the sense with their reflectivity, nightclubs and karaoke bars... even the 20 minute stretch that takes place in Madsen's home between he and Argento is a huge modern structure that seems to have been built entirely with glass. Needless to say, Assayas chosen locations seem to amplify the fragile existence and tepid industry status of his lead women.
As stated above, don't go into "Boarding Gate" expecting a tidy, routine thriller. Yes, there are gunfights, druggings and hitmen, but Assayas has ripped the logical connections of the espionage thriller to shreds. We're never exactly given the meaning of the relationship between Madsen and Argento. We're never told why Argento becomes the hunted, although I think the re-introduction of a small character at the very end of the film represents some satisfaction of explanation. And, we're never given the fleshed out reasons for why one character helps Argento in China. The motivation seems to be, simply, corporate greed and a complete removal of embedded morals. Full of amorphous killing machines, nothing seems quite as terrifying as the moment when, after being trapped in a warehouse in China, one man quietly hands a gun to a shirtless tattooed man and instructs him in Chinese to 'finish her off'. Without a word or emotion, the shirtless man takes the gun and sulks into the room where Argento is being held. No better example of moral emptiness can be found, and "Boarding Gate" wallows in it. "Boarding Gate" is less about the rules of corporate espionage and more about the journey of one woman caught in the web of globalization. Just like "demonlover" and its representation of a world mangled in cyber greed and corruption, Assayas is searching for the place for a confused and exploited woman to call her own. As the finale suggests, Argento will probably go on being exploited and confused in this dog-eat-dog environment, a message just as dark and nihilistic as the final image of Connie Nielsen in "demonlover" morphing into a cyber sex toy. No rest for the weary.