Boarding Gaterecommended viewing

A jolt!
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2006
Director: 
Olivier Assayas
Starring: 
Asia Argento, Michael Madsen, Carl Ng, Kelly Lin
The Setup: 
Woman has made some poor choices in romantic partners, to say the least.
Discussion: 

My friend and I had seen Demonlover, an earlier film by Olivier Assayas, and I really liked it [although I understand that several cineastes hate it]. Assayas is best known for Irma Vep, which is now high-tailing it to the top of my list, and most recently Clean, which sounds like a relatively sedate film about a woman kicking drugs. Boarding Gate is considered by most to be somewhat of a fiasco, redeemed for some only by the fierceness of Asia Argento’s performance, and to those people I say: Go Screw! This is the cinematic equivalent of five Red Bulls!

We open with Michael Madsen as Miles, saying he wants to quit his current position, but can’t because he owes so much money. He has kids and a wife that he is estranged from. He is visited by Asia Argento [daughter of Dario, but you knew that] as Sandra, who he used to be involved with. They have a tense, extremely mannered and phony conversation in which they reval that they had been in a passionate relationship in the past, which imploded in some way, leaving a lot of mutual bad feeling, and also some residual lust. You see, it seems that Michael used to get Sandra to sleep with his clients, then come back and report on the corporate secrets they spilled, as well as tell him about the hot, abusive sex that hey had. Sandra clearly likes it rough, but also bears some simmering hatreds toward people who treat her that way.

Madsen invites her over that night, but first Sandra must conduct her own drug deal, with this woman Lisa. Both of them work for and sleep with Lester, who has a faithful girlfriend/maybe wife in Sue. Sandra’s drug deal goes bad, there is some mild fixing by Lester, then she hops over to Miles’. There they have some abusive sex, play a lot [i.e. a LOT] of emotional mind games, and you, in the audience, are thinking “Wow, this is a lot talkier and more mannered than I was expecting, and all these emotional mind games are really getting tedious.” Well, hold on to your hats.

From here on out the movie is all action, action, action—and good action, too, parts of it akin to the recent Bourne movies in terms of skill and excitement. There is still a focus on character—and the plot still remains vague and distant—but the film remains riveting until the end.

Sandra’s relationship issues with Miles come to a rather abrupt conclusion, then she hooks up with Lester, who gives her a passport, cuts up her credit cards [if she charges anything, she will be found] and sends her on a flight to Hong Kong. She is given an address to go to. When she gets there, the guy tells her to hand him the paper with the address written on it, and burns it. She is taken to a room and locked in, and soon finds that Lisa is already there—dead. Sandra makes an amazing escape—this is where reminders of the Bourne movies came to mind—through vents and over rooftops and out café kitchens, then sets about trying to find out what the hell is going on.

She keeps trying to get ahold of Lester, but keeps getting his girlfriend, Sue. Now, everyone loves Asia, and she sure is kick-ass, but my heart was permanently won over by the delicious Kelly Lin as Sue. She tells Sandra that it doesn’t bother her at all that Sandra is sleeping with Lester—NAH!—and takes her to a karaoke bar to wait for Lester to appear. She even takes the mic at one point—but unfortunately doesn’t sing very much. But she keeps smiling, keeps telling Sandra how she can trust her, and you start to wonder… ah, she’s just too wonderful. I totally want The Sue Movie now.

After a notable [and pretty good—her non-actor status works for her] appearance by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Sandra is in a position to deal out some vengeance. I won’t reveal what happens, but suffice to say I don’t think Gloria Steinem is going to be 100% on board with this one.

I say: Allllright! I totally dug it, start to finish. I really liked how it defied expectations and loaded the front with a lot of dull, repetitive talk, lulling you into expecting a much more sedate film, then it puts the pedal to the metal and never looks back. The plot is something that is barely discernable even if you pay special, close attention—but isn’t plot so 20th century anyway? This movie seems to say “Come on, you can’t follow the plot of most action movies anyway, you just kind of know they’re there… why not jettison that entirely and have it be almost pure action and character?” Which it was—and it puts the care into it that all of the characters are vivid, consistent and believable.

Asia is indeed quite good. I have already sung the praises of the delightful Kelly Lin as Sue. Michael Madsen—not exactly my favorite actor—was perfectly cast here, and you can completely believe that he’s into all the sick kinky sex he’s supposed to be into. Almost all the camerawork is hand-held, and it works, without giving you that queasy Cloverfield feeling. And Assayas is capable of making even a 10-hour plane ride seem vivid and realistic. I’m a convert! Now I’m super-keen to see Irma Vep.

Should you watch it: 

I think so, although you may hate it, as many do.