It’s an all-Assayas weekend.
Olivier Assayas’s Boarding Gate arrives on these shores like a battered shipment of cheap goods. True, it’s only sat moldering for ten months in its film canister since its Cannes premiere — a relatively short period in these hazy days of distribution — but it shows a distinct lack of freshness all the same. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing: there’s a tantalizing whiff of mediocrity to Boarding Gate, and it’s consistently set off by high levels of self-awareness and undeniable craft. Assayas’s later career has been a heady stew of class and crass, yet not even in his terrific, audience-baiting pseudo-technothriller demonlover, with its corporate-girls-gone-wild for the smart set, did he flirt as heavily with exploitation as he does here.
Is Assayas truly putting forth the kind of loutish gamines-and-guns actioner his Irma Vep might have excoriated only a decade earlier? It’s not exactly genre subversion (once in gear, it generally plays by its own silly rules), and it’s not merely an exercise in style (before those rules are laid down, Assayas has a few narrative tricks up his sleeve), but rather a disconcertingly sincere stab at a particular kind of claptrap, a straight-to-video ’80s thriller dolled up in a glossy art-house finish.
REVERSE SHOT: You seem to have quite a bit of control of your own destiny, and looking at the trajectory of your filmmaking, there seems to be some kind of logic at work. So in approaching Boarding Gate, what was the big concept?
OLIVIER ASSAYAS: Well, I think it was definitely an area I’d been wanting to explore for quite awhile, something I’d been attracted to, and I’d been using elements of it here and there, and I felt at some specific stage I had to have a shot at going all the way. Meaning making a movie that, whatever it is, functions within some kind of genre framework, and also that’s fully an English-language film, even though it’s a strange English-language film, in the sense that a lot of the characters use English as a second language. But still, it’s technically an English-speaking film. And it’s things I’ve been tackling, I think starting, in a way, with Irma Vep—you know, it’s Irma Vep that was this break in my way of approaching films, when all of a sudden I decided for myself that it was okay to mix genre, to mix cultures, and that movies sometimes could be experiments, that within the format of modern cinema, within the format of narrative, you could experiment by mixing elements. So it kind of opened up the door to try things in areas where normally, as an independent French filmmaker you would not go. And I’ve been using, starting I suppose with demonlover, genre elements here and there. It also has to do with the fact that for ages I’ve wanted to make a film in Hong Kong. It goes back as far as I can remember, I suppose since I was there for the first time in the middle eighties, I’ve always had it in the back of my mind. And somehow, obviously the key to it was, again, you know, just making something that’s within the genre framework, and to me it was pretty natural. It was like a missing jigsaw piece somewhere in my filmmaking. Continue reading entire interview…