Monday, March 31, 2008
Madness and Vulnerability
There’s no getting around my own feelings regarding Asia Argento and I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t have them. Within her immense beauty and whatever craziness that we perceive to be there, she truly is a unique force when it comes to the screen presence she projects. The ways in which somebody responds to that presence is going to have a lot to do with how they respond to BOARDING GATE, the new film from Olivier Assayas. It’s the cinematic projection of following her to the ends of the earth and I went with it completely willingly. It’s possible that I can’t fully be trusted with my opinion of the film because of what I think of her, but there’s not much I can do about that. She makes her first appearance in BOARDING GATE seen from behind, a tattoo reading simply “23” visible on the back of her neck and within moments she is giving former lover Michael Madsen that look only Asia Argento can give someone, that one which speaks volumes of madness and vulnerability. She takes control of the frame at this point and doesn’t give it up. She’s not in every scene in the movie, but she is the movie. I don’t know if Olivier Assayas is in love with her, afraid of her or simply fascinated by her but it’s been a long time since there was a film which was so much about a director’s interest in his lead. Or maybe it’s just been a long time since there has been a lead actress who has the effect she gives off.
The plotline deliberately defies easy summarizing, so I’m not going to even try. Suffice it to say that Argento plays an ex-prostitute named Sandra living in Paris, looking to break off from her relationship with businessman Miles Rennberg (Michael Madsen) and how this results in an unexpected excursion to Hong Kong. It’s an oblique narrative with a series of scenes between Argento and Madsen which seem to rival similar sections of CONTEMPT in terms of both sheer length and the intimacy of the performances with each other but this leads us to several sequences of striking energy during chases through Hong Kong. There is a plot in BOARDING GATE, one which sorts itself out in surprising ways by the time it ends, but in many ways it’s beside the point while still being compelling in its own twisty way.
The basics of what BOARDING GATE is attempting in its guise as a thriller isn’t necessarily too different from what has been done before, from DIVA on down and it’s gorgeous in its glossiness as photographed by Yorick Le Saux. Looking for substance in its style might be missing the point, because Asia Argento is its substance. It’s not a movie where her past is revealed and we get soul-baring speeches. Instead, it presents her to us as she is and doesn’t apologize for it, simply allowing us, daring us, to take in all of her physicality and sensualness. We don’t always know what she’s thinking and in the end it’s possible the film doesn’t know either. But it’s very clearly hypnotized by her. To call it her best performance wouldn’t be the right way to phrase it, because of the nature of the film. I suppose it could be called the most striking use of her presence that I’ve seen so far. When you imagine your favorite actresses and what sort of film you would want to see them starring in, one which presents them in a way which is uncompromising and a genuine reminder of why you feel the way you do about her, this is the sort of film you may dream about.
But I shouldn’t ignore the nature of how Assayas photographs not only her but the people and places around her. It’s almost a case of pure cinema which offers a feel of intoxication that didn’t dissipate even when I stepped out of the theater. Overanalyzing it with words feels wrong right now and part of me just wants to let the fumes it gives off to linger inside me. But simply put, BOARDING GATE set a charge through me which is rare these days. Judging from some of the reviews that I’ve seen, not many others feel this way about the film, so I guess it’s not for everyone. I guess sometimes that’s just the way it goes.