Rachel McAdams as Christine and Noomi Rapace as Isabelle. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for Passion.
July 26, 2013
In the notorious 'How Not To' book The Devil's Candy, journalist Julie Salamon documents Brian de Palma's efforts to bring author Tom Wolfe's acclaimed anti-80s satire The Bonfire of the Vanities to cinemas. De Palma's fastidiousness saw the project run over budget and over time, and the resulting concoction became one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history. What keeps its reputation from suffering further is that De Palma's effort and skill as a craftsman can at least be seen on the screen. The man just tries so damn hard to make his movies worth watching that it's downright impossible to write the worst ones off completely. Even his latest, Passion, has at least one virtuoso moment. But Vanities was an adaptation of rich material, and Passion is a remake of some grubby French erotica. Putting too much effort into this thing just seems wasteful.
It's not De Palma's over-the-top direction that undoes Passion; rather, the terminal miscasting of its two leads. Scandinavian ice queen Noomi Rapace plays Isabelle, the plain protégé of sexually adventurous and scheming advertising executive Christine (girl next door, Rachel McAdams). Huh? I'm all for actors working outside of the box, yet our preconceptions of both stars hinder our ability to, firstly, buy personas that differ so greatly from what we've seen them do before, and, secondly, feign surprise when their true identities are revealed. After Christine claims credit for one of Isabelle's ingenious marketing campaigns, friction between the two emerges. Isabelle procures intimate information about her boss' bedroom proclivities from their shared lover, Dirk (Paul Anderson). Christine discovers the affair, sending her into a Machiavellian frenzy. When one of the principals is killed, baffled Berlin cops, led by the lovelorn Inspector Bach (Rainer Boch), take the case. The audience remains only superficially interested.
The first two plot keywords on IMDB describing Passion are 'Lesbian Kiss' and 'Female Female Kiss,' though anyone interested in Passion for those two - admittedly, very similar - activities alone will be disappointed. Passion is actually a pretty sexless endeavour; certainly a very unsexy one. The only thing that truly titillates De Palma is audacious camera exercises. The murder sequence is the real money shot in that regard (operated by DOP José Luis Alcaine). The frame splits in two, and we watch one camera stalk its victim, while the other remains trained on the modern dance performance ostensibly being observed by the innocent party. It's the only time the flick's content seems in sync with De Palma's operatic ambitions. Elsewhere, such as when Isabelle seemingly goes mad on anti-depressants and every shot seems as if it's been lit through shutter blinds, it's as comically hysterical as Reefer Madness.
Far be it from me to ask De Palma to tone it down. This is what he does. Still, it has to be said that Passion fails even on its own terms as an outrageous, Hitchcockian mystery. Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects - which featured numerous similar plot points - is funnier, sexier, and more visually dazzling without being as showy as De Palma's photographic callisthenics. I've not seen Love Crime, the French film being adapted, however, I suspect having Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier in the McAdams and Rapace roles already puts it at an advantage. Too bad they couldn't replicate that casting in this English language re-do. Love Crime has the upper hand. Just one of the benefits of coming first, I suppose.
Passion is available on Quickflix from August 28, 2013.