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06.11.08

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Phaedra

Boarding Gate

One disc; Magnolia Home Entertainment; $26.98

By Michael S. Gant


Clearly, the big selling point for Olivier Assayas' Boarding Gate is the image of star Asia Argento in nothing but her black underwear and high heels holding a gun and crouching over a dead body. It's Ms. 45 for French-film snobs (and maybe not so coincidentally, Argento once made a documentary about Ms. 45 director Abel Ferrara called Abel/Asia). With her clothes on, alas, Argento (daughter of Italian giallo giant Dario) is a sullen, pouty downer—Juliette Lewis with an accent—despite director Assayas' assertion in an interview that she is "unique." It doesn't help that her makeup gives her a haggard look that belies her supposed man-magnet qualities. She plays Sandra, a prostitute trying to break off a kinky affair with a vicious global capitalist, Miles (Michael Madsen). The first half takes place in high-rise Paris and consists mostly of Argento and Madsen engaged in some S/M erotic foreplay (think Peter Coyote, Emmanuelle Seigner and the pig mask from Polanski's Bitter Moon, if you dare). When she's not inspecting Miles' handcuff drawer, Sandra does some risible snake-charmer moves with her arms; Madsen, perhaps improvising to keep from laughing, waves his arms back at her. Madsen, who has beefed up a whole lot since Reservoir Dogs, seems more interested in gobbling snack food in his scenes than actually bedding Argento—he is as distracted and contemplative on the verge of copulation as Marlon Brando in Last Tango. Finally, Asia strips and wraps a belt around Madsen's neck like a dog collar, which seems to encourage him. The second half switches to Hong Kong. Set up and abandoned by her other lover, a Chinese importer named Lester (Carl Ng), Sandra escapes from certain death by blazing away like a female Cow Yun-Fat. Plenty of action (and less dialogue for Asia) helps paper over the holes in the plot. Assayas, whose best film remains Irma Vep, seems more excited by the crowded, overilluminated streets of Hong Kong than he does by the cold offices and suites of Paris. In the end, though, despite the ersatz shocks, Assayas proves himself to be a hopeless romantic, and Sandra is just one more woman who loves too much. Two short interviews, one with Assays and one with Argento, round out the disc.


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