OUT NOW ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
RUNNING TIME: 98 min
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
At the Berlin office of a global advertising outfit, executive Christine Stanford has a twisted working relationship with her dedicated assistant Isabelle Jame,s showering her with affection while stabbing her in the back at every opportunity. They are also both sleeping with the same man. When Isabelle comes up with a successful advertisement for a Jeans brand, Christine takes credit for the idea, winning her a promotion to head of the company’s New York branch. Isabelle, following the advice of her smitten lesbian secretary Dani, leaks the ad online, where it goes viral and allows her to claim ownership of it. Denied her promotion, Christine immediately sets about gaining revenge….
Some people are already calling Passion a film for the ‘true’, or the ‘real’, Brian De Palma fan, as opposed to I suppose the casual one. I think a ‘true’ or ‘real’ fan is intended to be someone who prefers, for example, Body Double to Scarface, The Phantom Of The Paradise to Mission Impossible, Femme Fatale to The Untouchables, even Home Movies to Casualties Of War. Of course the distinction can become pretty blurred and there are also those movies of his which few on either side seem to like, like Mission To Mars and his last two films prior to Passion, The Black Dahlia and Redacted. You get what I mean though, the ‘true’ or ‘real’ fan tends to prefer the films De Palma makes more for himself rather than the box office, these films usually tending to be more stylised and off-beat. I think it’s fair to say that the director has gone off the boil somewhat of late, not quite so much as, for example Dario Argento, another once-great filmmaker who retains his passion [sorry] for making movies but just doesn’t seem to be any good at it anymore, but it does seem increasingly unlikely that he’ll make another really strong movie.
Passion doesn’t sound promising. For a start, it’s only the seventh film to have that title: surely they could have thought of a more original one?. It’s also a remake of a French film from 1990 entitled Love Crime, De Palma adapting the original movie himself, and English language remakes of non-English language films tend to be nowhere near as good as the originals, though Passion is virtually a European movie in its own right, having been made in Germany. Even in these days of the big blockbusters taking over more and more cinema screens in multiplexes and thereby edging more and more of the smaller films out, it’s a bit of a surprise to have a film starring two actresses who are both popular and very good bypass the cinemas and go straight to home release. A really sad indication of the times I think, unless of course the film in question is an utter disaster. Passion is certainly not that. It’s really quite an awkward, uneven film that, even though it tells the same story throughout, almost feels like two very different short films badly glued together, but those people were right: this is a film for the ‘true’ or ‘real’ De Palma fan. Beginning in 1984 with Body Double, De Palma has tended every now and again to make a picture which is unashamedly self-borrowing in nature, and if you adore him then that is more of a good thing than a bad thing. So count me as someone who considers it a good thing, and anyway you could almost say the same thing about much of Alfred Hitchcock’s work.
For just over half an hour though Passion is a little dull, not quite boring, but just coasting along. The relationship between executive who knows how to get everything she wants, and down-trodden but very talented assistant, plays out amidst typically stunning Berlin architecture, as cold and methodical as Christine herself, and Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace are excellent in their roles. McAdams is having a ball playing a real ‘bitch’ while Rapace, finally seeming totally comfortable in an English-speaking role, suggests very well that she may have some serious issues buried inside her calm exterior. But the director doesn’t seem very interested in the proceedings, taking his time with the story but somewhat rushing through what seem like a few key scenes, while you would be hard-pressed to identify it as a De Palma film at all from the virtual lack of style. It’s the sort of film that if you were watching on TV you may very well think: “naaah, this isn’t going anywhere” and give up on. But hang on in there……
because suddenly it not only gets very interesting but goes a little mad too. The story ramps up considerably and we get blackmail, obsession, murder and more besides, the score by De Palma’s old collaborator Pino Donaggio, which previously had mainly consisted of ‘source’ music of the ‘lounge’ kind, finally comes into its own, and the visual style ramps up too, with intense colour schemes [like Isabelle being constantly shot against dark green], Dutch angles, long takes with the camera often moving around the characters, and split-screen. When the screen divides in two and we combine two dancers in Claude Debussy’s Afternoon of the Faun ballet with Isabelle walking along outside the theatre, the gorgeous Debussy music blaring out, I was in De Palma heaven, and we later find out we are even being lied to about the timeline! Fantastic! The rug is pulled out from under our feet more and more, and finally, as composer Pino Donaggio’s score cheekily plays a slight varation on the penultimate cue ‘The Nightmare’ from his Dressed To Kill soundtrack, reaches heights of crazy delirium while combining elements of much of his previous work. Sisters, Raising Cain, Blow Out etc; the fan will recognise important elements from each all weaved together. There’s no doubt that you will have seen it all before, but you may not guess everything and be even puzzled by the ending, which is open to interpretation. I guess if you want everything to make sense it may seem that De Palma has let the story get away from him.
I haven’t seen Love Crime as yet, and chose not to see it prior to seeing Passion, so that for once I could approach Passion on its own and not constantly compare it to the other film. Apparently De Palma’s script follows the original film closely for the first half, then differs somewhat in the second, keeping the killer unseen, for example, during a murder, and changing substantially near the end. Said killing is the only scene which spills much blood and the very brief sex scenes are somewhat disappointing in a film called Passion, though that title might have been meant ironically because the film overall feels very cold. While it’s obvious from at least half of the film that De Palma has still ‘got it’, I miss the naughty censor-baiting De Palma of the old days. I guess these days it’s harder to shock so he just doesn’t bother trying, but I feel the sexual aspect of the story, especially the lesbian side, would have benefitted from being less timid. De Palma is still fascinated by much the same things as he always has been though, like doubles, voyeurism, and dreams. Much like Argento, he has certain obsessions which he can’t prevent from spilling out onto the screen over and over again.
More than any previous film, De Palma is just trying to fool you with Passion, and have fun with it. He’s not bothered with mundane things like credibility; even some of the events in the duller first part are none-too-believable. Passion doesn’t take place in the real world; it takes place in De Palma world, where nothing is as it seems and now it seems you can’t even trust your own eyes. It’s a very misshapen work that gives the impression of being rushed a little. It could certainly do with a couple more thrills. Nonetheless, this ‘true’ or ‘real’ De Palma fan, after rather too much hesitation, ended up having a ball. It certainly isn’t Dressed To Kill, Obsession or even The Fury, but it will do.