Sunday, March 10, 2013

Passion - Brian de Palma

Passion (Brian de Palma - France/Germany) 100 minutes

You wonder what went through the minds of French critics when they learned that Brian de Palma — a man who can really do no wrong in their eyes — was remaking a film, Crime d’amour, by a French director they didn’t care too much for (Alain Corneau). There probably was no befuddlement in reality, as de Palma is the master-magpie of cinema, a man who can recycle and re-appropriate practically anything in the process of putting a film together (not to mention, a man who has a few remakes to his name). It also helped that Crime d’amour, which came out in 2010, shortly after Corneau’s death from cancer, is itself a reworking of Fritz Lang’s last American film Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

So the intertextual refractions are given a further delicious twist. But if there is any reflexiveness going on here it is turned towards de Palma’s own work. If anything, Passion resembles nothing so much as a Brian de Palma film — his name runs though it as if it were a stick of seaside rock; its title has an air of déjà-vu about it, it is filmed and edited in such a way that it might be slipped in between Dressed to Kill and Body Double in the de Palma oeuvre and few casual viewers would be any the wiser. And the music — well, it is so indelibly de Palma, you are reminded that so many of his films, both good and bad, are bolstered, even held together, by the music.

The scenario is quintessentially de Palma too: Rachel McAdams plays Christine, a vampish power-dressing advertising executive who uses her creative underling, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) to her advantage to land a juicy account and further her career. She also encourages Isabelle into a relationship with her lover Dirk (Paul Anderson — with a 1990s footballer’s haircut and facial hair the same shade as his face). Of course, this being a de Palma film, nothing is as it seems; Rapace initially looks like the perfect patsy but she is well able for Christine and returns fire with her own chicanery. Rapace is particularly good, her edgy, borderline-unhinged presence a seamless fit for a de Palma film. So much that you feel like she has been in one or two before (you also imagine that Mr de Palma was following Lisbeth Salander’s onscreen progress with great interest).

Passion is, in many of its details, a cheap piece of tat: the acting is as stilted as in most of the man’s films and the production values look like de Palma is either seriously slumming or spent all his budget on the two leading ladies. But it works very well, and the French die-hard auteurist cleaving to de Palma, even when he produces such rubbish as Mission to Mars and Redacted, makes sense when you consider that his own films often only make sense in the context of his career as a whole. There are glimmers of recognisable images and tropes strewn throughout the film and Passion has an eerily Hitchcockian air of a dream you have already had. De Palma’s detractors have always used his promiscuous appropriation of the Master of Suspense as a stick to beat him with. People who don’t like de Palma will find little to dissuade them here, but, even as the film veers perilously close to self-parody, it is wonderfully entertaining, and despite it being a remake of a remake, could only have been made by Brian de Palma.