Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Passion (2012) of the De Palma

Brian De Palma was a force in Hollywood for decades but since the new millenium he's ... well... trailed off a little bit. From Femme Fatale (2002) to The Black Dahlia (2006) De Palma has been giving us glimpses of his genius but never paying it off with a solid story or coaxing any kind of performance out of an actor that wasn't laughable since Mission to Mars (2000). (or Snake Eyes if we're being honest)

But he's back with what should be a classic De Palma movie, Passion. Based on the French film Crime d'Amour (2010), Passion is the story of Catherine (Rachel McAdams) a high powered ad exectutive and Isabelle (Noomi Repace) her creative underlying. While occasionally rivals in the business world the women share an intense if not strained bond. Once Catherine learns that Isabelle has been bonking her boyfriend she sets her sights on Isabelle for a full and complete take down. The plot plays like a traditional Hitchcockian narrative with identity changes, time lapses and murder.

De Palma crams this movie with all of his trademarks (which actually helps further the threadbare plot a fair bit) split screens, long takes, doppelgangers and plenty of voyeristic shots fill up the movie. Rachel McAdams plays Catherine like a grown up Regina George and considering some of the lines she utters which sound like Google Translate on a bad day, she's terrifificly fun to watch. Noomi on the other feels like she just stumbled off of the set for Prometheus and wound up in this movie; she's aggitated, nervous and wild on screen.  While I don't think Rapace was controlled and meek enough to play out a power dynamic such as this (think Diabolique) her choice to play every scene with no subtext is bizarrely pleasureable to watch.

Why won't you stop trying to make "fetch" happen?
While De Palma dresses up these women with kinky sex fetishes and conniving behavior it fails to rise to the top like his other films of this vein Blow Out (1981) and Dressed to Kill (1980) because of the odd lack of emotion emanating from the entire film, it is a joy to watch. Passion is full of strange characterization, bland business intrigue, over designed interior, clunky dialogue and sexy sex. I watched film from my couch with a high fever and maybe it's the Tyelnol Complete talking but this film is a wonderous delight of bad calculation.

It is wonderous because De Palma is so insistent on his vision that he never lets the movie be what it wants to be (which I believe to be a comedy of business manners) but an early 80s De Palma Paint-By-Numbers joint. Characters, scenes and plot are so bizarrely strung together that it resembles a puzzle where someone has taped the pieces together. While De Palma's films were once visually filled to the brim with production design (think Carrie White's house and all the super fun religious paraphernalia) Passion is an oddly bleak and blank canvas. Set in Germany it allows for all sorts of intense interior design motifs which frame monotonous scenes where the only occurrence is one of the characters' thirty seven emotional breakdowns.

With Passion De Palma may have become his own doppelganger. While JJ Abrahms is off impersonating Spielberg, De Palma is impersonating himself, like when a friend's dad tries to tell you a story about a swingers part he went to once to. Passion has some of the ingredients that the passionate and almost reckless filmmaker once depended on, but they have lapsed and what he has created is a slightly classy Lifetime movie. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Passion is a ridiculously fun and silly watch, but do as the characters do and forget about subtlety, complexity and turn everything to 11.