Olivier Assayas has become a popular name as far as art house filmmaking is concerned. His film Summer Hours received a large amount of critical acclaim upon its release and his miniseries Carlos while controversial has become the definitive biopic of the past few years. I knew this before picking up my copy of Boarding Gate and was thoroughly confused by the cover and general concept of the film. It simply did not looks or sounds like something that the acclaimed French director could have possibly conceived. I was still uncertain as the first few minute of the film occurred and it was apparent that Michael Madsen phoned in his entire performance. However, as the film became more complex and surreal I started to pick up on Assayas's style and the film intrigued me and when the ambient tones of Brian Eno kicked in I was consumed. The movie is an unpredictable and unusual approach to deceit and infidelity in a way that stand alone. Not to mention the movie is incredibly self-aware about its sex appeal, without making the film glossy in its sensuous approach. It is gritty and reminds viewers, like Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, that intimacy is a very real thing that can have very tragic results.
The film focuses on the intertwined relationships of a group of people engaging in activities that would be described as illegal. The first person introduced is Miles (Michael Madsen) an aging adviser for a security company who has admitted to a partner that he is selling his shares in the company because of some mismanaged money. It is uncertain about where this money could have possibly gone, until Miles is informed that he has a guest in the lobby. This guest is ex-prostitute Sandra (Asia Argento) who is also Miles's former lover. She has come to explain to him that she has found a new job and is far removed from relying on his wealth. Miles is skeptical of Sandra's claims, but allows her to leave contingent on her agreeing to stop by his place later. Sandra is then shown working at a shipping company with her friends and employers Lester (Carl Ng) and Sue Wang (Kelly Lin) who are married. It is also apparent that the shipping company is cover for drug smuggling that turns awry when a deal goes bad involving Sandra. Fortunately, Sandra is rescued by Lester who then has an awkward sexual encounter before leaving her to her own devices. Sandra also engages in her meeting with Miles, which involves her dangling her sexuality over Miles before killing him in half defense and half rage. This murder leads to Lester offering help to Sandra to travel to China to hide. However, given the illegal nature of her act Lester demands that she avoid contact given that the authorities would certainly be after her. The trip is secretive and leads Sandra to the underworld of China and multiple near death experiences, one of which involves Sue trying to exact revenge for her infidelity with Lester. However, due to her streetwise nature Sandra is able to escape from the situation and receives aid from Kay (Kim Gordon) an enigmatic woman who appears to have complete control of the reigns that are underworld China. Sandra then attempts to exact revenge on Lester by following him to a restaurant. She is only moments away from stabbing Lester when she witnesses him exchanging briefcases with the man Miles had originally talked to at the films opening. Every characters' intertwined experiences result in Sandra realizing that revenge is arbitrary and that she can do more good by succeeding ethically.
The film is excellent as far as narrative is concerned. It is somewhat difficult to watch the acting at times given what seems to be the director's inability to direct actors outside of his language. It can be insufferable at times, but the overall quality of the film far outshines this flaw. What I specifically love about this film is the international nature of the film. It involves actors from The United States, China, Italy and other nations as well as a director who is French. The film is set in multiple locations, centering heavily on the narrative as it occurs in Beijing and Paris. It may seem like a rather arbitrary thing to make a huge deal out of, yet it is simply not a common occurrence that a film crosses as many boarders as Boarding Gate does. The multiple nationalities involved in the film certainly add another layer of relevance to the films title. It is a veritable boarding gate of a film in the constant intersections of culture and identity in a way that forces individuals to acknowledge their previously ignored presence. This also helps explain the abrupt ending to the film that leaves films considerably unfulfilled. Sandra could have exacted revenge to Lester thus completing her already brutal spree of murders. However, as she watches Lester leave the restaurant and enter his car after engaging in what are most certainly illicit activities, she realizes that her attacks against others are only acidic to progression. She changes her behavior to reflect somebody who desires to engage in the world stage productively, even if those intersections only occur in passing.
Boarding Gate is an excellent film, but not a piece of cinema. It fails to gather cohesion enough to deliver an entire concept and seems much more a series of scattered statements than a fully realized philosophy. With that being said, the film is worth watching via rental. Also, it has one of the coolest credit songs I have head in awhile.