Directed by Oliver Assayas (Clean, Demonlover), the Cannes midnight selection Boarding Gate tells the story of Sandra (Asia Argento) -- a confused young woman trying to figure out her relationship with Miles (Michael Madsen), a financier who's fallen into a run of bad luck. Sandra and Miles used to be lovers, but that's over; Miles also used to hire Sandra to service visiting clients and turn their pillow talk into business intelligence; that's over, too -- but they still have plenty to talk about. ...
People much smarter than I are very fond of Assayas's work -- most especially Demonlover, a movie that elicited love-it-or-hate-it reactions from critics and viewers. Like Demonlover, Boarding Gate takes place in a hinky, kinky realm, a world of secrets and lies where big business, espionage, sex and emotional connection all combine. In Boarding Gate, though, there's one problem; the film has no motor to drive it. Sandra gets into trouble, sure -- and gets in deep -- but neither Assayas's script nor Argento's performance give us any reason to care if Sandra makes it though in one piece; the fact that Argento's character swings between seductive pouting and go-away petulance doesn't help. Argento may be an attractive mammal -- the film certainly thinks so, as it never skips a chance to show us her stripping down -- but as an actual actress, she's a washout. Not to be crass, but if Argento's line readings and character were as well-developed and fully-rounded as her breasts, I've no doubt Boarding Gate would have been a better film.
The action skips from Europe to Asia, as Sandra's involvement with a husband-and-wife import-export duo Lester and Sue (Carl Ng and Kelly Lin) deepens as her troubles increase. Boarding Gate has an interesting casting choice for one of the film's puppet-master string pullers: Kim Gordon, of Sonic Youth. There's a weird thrill in watching Gordon bark orders in Cantonese to her underlings and say lines like "I have a passport and some money for you -- a new identity. ..." in her signature flat, affectless tone, but while that sonic quality may work in rock and roll, it pops you out of the film so that you're sitting there thinking "Hey! It's Kim Gordon."
Assayas seems to be trying to pull some kind of central theme through the movie -- the global movement of capital, the global movement of people, the sins of the past played out on a personal and professional scale -- but never puts enough oomph into actually developing the script or story, and seems content with time-filling shots of Sandra walking the bustling neon streets or pawing at her own ladyparts in what is, I gather, intended to be a seductive fashion.
At Boarding Gate's conclusion, we're shown who's been puling the strings all along, and why -- but the film preceeding that revelation hasn't done enough to make us care about the final revelation, and Argento never engages us as a character; she's like some porny dress-up (or, rather, dressdown) doll with a plastic visage and hollow head. The press kit for the film tries to sell us the sizzle of Boarding Gate -- a picture of Argento crouching in lingerie and high heels, a silenced automatic in one hand. With that image, the filmmakers are trying to sell us that old seductive movie combo, kiss kiss bang bang; what the film actually gives us is more like shrug shrug whimper whimper.