Sunday, April 20, 2008

Boarding Gate (Assayas, 2007)

Olivier Assayas’ Boarding Gate is not so much a film about plot or atmosphere. It’s a film about attitude. Early on, we are introduced to the basics of the situation involving a big time criminal who wants out of the lifestyle and a comparatively small-time drug dealer who used to be his lover. Most of this is material that you have probably seen countless times before. Pretty soon, the drug dealer will be in over her head and on the run from men who want her to disappear permanently. There are crosses and double crosses, twists and turns, many of which are predictable. So, you may be rightly wondering at this point, why should I care? You should care because the woman on the run is Asia Argento.

To say that Argento seems “at home” or “in her element” would be a cliché, but how else to describe her performance in which she lifts the film up by the scruff of the neck and carries it confidently from start to finish? At 32 years of age, Argento has the advantage of possessing over 20 years of acting experience. Making no effort to conceal her trademark tattoos, Asia is no chameleon. As in her other performances, she is rarely far from playing herself. And yet, she has just the right mixture of aggressiveness and vulnerability to make her characters entirely captivating. Even when she is trading bruising language with Michael Madsen, she never seems to be trying to achieve an effect. She uses her body with abandon, plunging headfirst into scenes where another actress might make us feel that she was being exploited. You get the sense that Argento hasn’t been cast in a role, so much as a film has been constructed around her.

Boarding Gate works, and works well, despite its uninspired plot because Assayas is able to sustain a prolonged sense of danger. You don’t know whether to envy the men Argento falls in love with or feel sorry for them. At any given moment they are seemingly at risk of being fucked or being killed, possibly both on the same night. In a supporting role, Michael Madsen is himself a combustible personality, playing the kind of man that would dare get close to Argento for any prolonged period of time. There is also fun to be had in the globe-skipping path Argento takes attempting to find safety and in seeing Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon suddenly appear on screen barking out orders in Cantonese. (Gordon unfortunately does not fare as well in English, giving a performance on the level of Lyle Lovett.)

Boarding Gate leaves us with very little thematically to ponder. The things at stake are the kinds of things that are really only important to movie characters in films such as this. Argento’s character makes a final decision that, while revealing something significant about her personality, does not offer us much in the way of a satisfying conclusion. Still, the film is fun while it lasts, artful and exciting enough to fully capture our interest and, most importantly, a worthy showcase for Argento’s charismatic bravado.



Blogger Phil said...

Hey, sorry to creepily pop up and post here. You haven't appeared at MC in a while, and I have a feeling you are taking a break (be it permanent or otherwise) as some of your recent posts appeared somewhat agitated. Sorry to see that happen. Anyway, just letting you know I'll keep you open as a moderator in case you should want to return. Hope all is well.

(oh, and Speed Racer - totally not worth it. I don't even believe it would be good for your kid, but I hope you find otherwise.)

-Phil (Raiders)

12:39 PM  

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