Movie Review: Boarding Gate (2008)
French writer-director Olivier Assayas’ (Demonlover, Clean, Summer Hours) film, Boarding Gate, doesn’t sit obediently in its erotic-thriller billing. As anyone might gather from the title, the idea behind Boarding Gate is that some plots may transcend or toe many boundaries or borders, Boarding Gate itself being mainly a crime-laden work, a series of half-examined sexual and entrepreneurial relations—not all, but many ending fittingly with murder. Surely an apt aim for a film whose purported first title was Departed.
Boarding Gate is a film that follows Sandra (Asia Argento), a former escort who’s employed by a couple deep in the black market—the couple smuggles drugs into Paris via various living room ensembles and runs a successful DVD-pirate ring in Hong Kong. Sandra sleeps with her boss, Lester Wang (Carl Ng). One of Sandra’s more satisfied former patrons is Miles Rennberg (Michael Madsen), with whom she had become romantically involved many times over, and inexplicably tries to rekindle her love for at the film’s outset; their shared memories only the kinky sex they had and the word “slave,” which Miles finds turns on Sandra. The effort to rekindle any romance inevitably fails—lo, they are incompatible, and Miles had promised one million dollars that he was never good for. Sandra shoots Miles several times while he’s tied to a bedpost, shouting wildly for punishment, not expecting. In a still crazier turn of events, Sandra discovers there was a hit out on Miles, that he was in debt big to some Chinese suits, and that her boss, Lester, was supposed to carry out the hit. Lester offers to split the bounty and sends Sandra packing to China to collect it.
Disappointingly, Assayas’ film and the idea behind it receive somewhat uneven treatment, said treatment received due to a number of misguided structures. Pacing and organization are the key problems, as are casting and performance. Dialogue-heavy is the first half of the film, commonplace thriller cliché shootout the second. The film exists in halves, as two different bodies, and I don’t think this was intended. This isn’t to say that each half of the film isn’t without its moments, but that the narrative should not contradict so toneily, because it behaves quite awkwardly as a consequence. As for casting, Kim Gordon, of Sonic Youth fame, acts lamely, undeniably. Gordon is unconvincing at best as a sphinxlike Hong Kong businesswoman. Gordon speaks in maybe two scenes; her role seems written extraneously to the film, inauthentic. Throughout, Boarding Gate’s entire cast acts bored, though Argento’s lead performance is one very bright spot.
I had never seen or looked for Argento in a film prior to this and was not looking for her going in. I simply did not know who she was—maybe I’d seen her in xXx with Vin Diesel, but had since forgot that her acting work existed. Admittedly, my viewing of this film was prompted somewhat arbitrarily, by a best-of list compiled by author Christopher Higgs (The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney, Sator Press)—more a better-of list, Higgs admits, relishing the incompleteness of such an undertaking. I added every film to my queue and do not regret the decision. Really, I was bored in my imposed purgatory, waitlisted at a school which might not call, in a lease through the end of July, in this city, well, because a job is a job. In Boarding Gate, Argento shines alongside more inflectionless beings. Foreign-spoke scenes run without subtitles, entire audiences shorted critical dialogue exchanges and contexts in what is perhaps a deliberate move by Assayas—then again, maybe this was Netflix’s error. The plot for this monolingual viewer suffers some due to it, but in these scenes it’s evident Argento’s on display, forward with her versatility as an actress—Argento speaks French, Italian, and English fluently.
One of the film’s more interesting traits is its color palate and associated visuals, visuals no less accentuated in those scenes where Argneto lurks in lingerie or disrobes completely. Boarding Gate exhibits an almost noirish sensibility. It’s Asia Argento’s performance which makes Boarding Gate so much more authentic for its viewership.
Boarding Gate. Directed by Oliver Assayas. With Asia Argento (Sandra), Michael Madsen (Miles Rennberg), Kelley Lin (Sue Wang), Carl Ng (Lester Wang), and Kim Gordon (Kay). Released June 3, 2008, by Magnet Releasing.
Jason Teal is a founding editor of HEAVY FEATHER REVIEW. His work has appeared in METAZEN, RED LIGHTBULBS, NAP, and SUSQUEHANNA REVIEW. His reviews have been published in MID-AMERICAN REVIEW, where he served as managing editor.