Dir/scr: Oliver Assayas. Fr. 2007. 106mins.
Maverick French director Oliver Assayas gets lost in transit with Boarding Gate, a transglobal thriller of dirty business deals and dirty sex that he has previously mined in Demonlover, with equally underwhelming results.

Cannes ' out-of-competition 'Midnight Screening' is generally reserved for films that are too commercial (or unclassifiable) to play in official sections. But although it plays the sexy Asia Argento card for all its worth, Boarding Gate is no sure-fire box-office winner: in its clumsy welding of kinky arthouse relationship drama and double-cross business thriller, the film will satisfy neither hardline cineastes nor genre fans, and its theatrical prospects look limp both in France (where Assayas is considered a bit of an outsider these days) and elsewhere. With the right cover artwork (sexy Asia Argento, presumably) it should shift a few units on DVD, but the risquè S&M scenes and strong language will limit small-screen showings to satellite and cable.

Assayas has declared that he set out deliberately to make an English-language B-movie: but the director of poised, perceptive films like Clean and Les Destinees Sentimentales just doesn't have the trashy creative soul to make it work. Unevenness is a mark of the B-movie, sure, but rarely to the extent that we feel we're watching two different films shot in two different styles.

Film one is about company director Miles (Madsen in typical smooth-but-vulnerable mode) and his former lover, Sandra (Argento). Prowling close-up camera angles and dialogue that sounds a little like David Mamet run through an automatic translator reveal that Miles used to loan Sandra out to his clients for the night and force her to recount her experiences afterwards; it also becomes clear from a scene in Madsen's plush Parisian apartment that they both enjoy slave-master games.

Film two kicks in when Sandra flees to Hong Kong after committing a crime, supposedly in order to join her new lover, Lester (Carl Ng). The resulting yarn aspires to the breakneck pace of the Hong Kong thriller but suffers from poor plotting, cliched tricks of the trade (the spiked drink, a device already abused by the director in Demonlover) and dull Hong Kong transit scenes when the dramatic tension counter returns to zero.

There are moments when Boarding Gate wakes up and seems about to go somewhere interesting - particularly in some of the Madsen-Argento scenes. Now that she can play world-weary, tired and fragile, the daughter of horror meister Dario is turning into a more mature actress, going beyond the on/off modes (sexy minx or wiped-out druggie) of most of her previous roles.

DoP Yorick Le Saux (a frequent Ozon collaborator) squeezes what he can out of the material, setting up nice contrasts between glare and penumbra in part one that act as metaphors for the dodgy world of international import-export scams. But he too is forced to switch register in part two, opting to shoot Hong Kong through Sandra's eyes as a threatening, garish, overcrowded metropolis - sort of Lost in Translation with guns.

Production company/backers
Margo Films
TPS Star

International sales
Memento Films International

Francois Margolin

Yorick Le Saux

Production design
Francois-Renaud Labarthe

Luc Barnier

Main cast
Asia Argento
Michael Madsen
Carl Ng
Kelly Lin
Joanna Preiss