A B-movie that self-reflexively distills genre tropes (and their consequent pleasures) to their lean, potent essence, Olivier Assayas’ Boarding Gate has a convoluted thriller plot to ignore (or, rather, to get lost in), a frazzled, frantic aesthetic to adore, and a lead performance from Asia Argento to get hot and bothered over. As in demonlover (which, five years after my dismissive initial assessment, now seems less a confused muddle than a bold, sleek original), Assayas here revisits his favorite obsessions: espionage, intrigue, sex, betrayal, escape, reinvention, and love and exploitation in a globalized modern world that brings people and cultures together and yet also fosters individual detachment. The director’s story hinges, initially, on former corporate prostitute-cum-spy Sandra’s (Asia Argento) reunion with her pimp-lover Miles (Michael Madsen). This culminates in an extended dance-of-death in Miles’ chilly, sterile apartment that’s defined by cinematographic framing concocted with an eye toward alienation, Assayas’ digital images rife with reflections in cold, shiny surfaces that repel rather than invite. Sandra and Miles’ rapport is predicated on role-playing – which echoes the film’s own pretense of being a straightforward genre piece rather than an oblique, avant-garde riff on such entertainments – and once their relationship violently ends, Sandra is thrust into a constant state of motion, with her fleeing Paris for Hong Kong to seek out a new identity, then revenge, and finally a glimpse of the betrayer she thought had loved her. Assayas prizes energized, sensual momentum and mood over lucidity, his latest fundamentally a series of scenes where eliciting a visceral, unadulterated, immediate emotional response takes precedence over narrative logic. It’s a modus operandi aided by the director’s fluid, lustrous camerawork, which glides, dips and soars with giddy electricity, as well as by his persistent, subtle depiction of cross-cultural communication as simultaneously binding and isolating. Boarding Gate experimentally channels its adoration of Hollywood pulp into something invigoratingly abstract (heck, even Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon randomly shows up to yell in Cantonese), which is also a way of describing the peerlessly scuzzy, scintillating Argento, here melding a raft of contradictory, often-ludicrous poses – cooing vixen and mumbling junkie; proficient killer and bewildered victim; crotch-rubbing skank and forlorn romantic – in a tour-de-force of force-of-nature erotic badassery.