"MIGHT CONSTITUTE A GENUINE QUEST FOR TRANSCENDENCE"
Jonathan Rosenbaum has reposted his 2002 review of Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale. After reading Rosenbaum's review of Snake Eyes in 1998, in which he seemed to feel De Palma had, in his eyes, finally come into his own as a filmmaker whose vision was wholly his own, I remember reading this review of Femme Fatale and really thinking that Rosenbaum was in the midst of some kind of reconsideration of De Palma's work (in the review, he cites Pauline Kael's ebracing "of what she called De Palma’s trashiness" as getting in the way of Rosenbaum's ability to appreciate De Palma "for what he is instead of disliking him for what he isn’t"). We'll see if anything like that ever comes along in his future writing, but back in 2002, Rosenbaum called Femme Fatale "a grand synthesis" of De Palma's oeuvre. "As I watched it the first time two months ago," Rosenbaum states in the review, "I found myself capitulating to its inspired formalist madness — something I’ve resisted in [De Palma's] films for the past 30-odd years." Here are some of the very interesting things Rosenbaum had to say about Femme Fatale (which he labeled a three-star must-see):
However ludicrous the opening heist sequence of Femme Fatale might seem, it proposes a kind of willful symmetry. The movie’s climactic slow-motion catastrophe — which we actually see assembled and disassembled like a jigsaw puzzle in two separate versions — is an equally implausible form of symmetry that’s governed by chance and fate. Both sequences are of course conceived and constructed by De Palma, and the metaphysical distinctions between how and why they unfold add up to a philosophical position, if not a moral or ethical one.
The first time Laure sees Lily playing Russian roulette in a Paris flat, there’s a leaking aquarium in a corner of the room. Since we see the leak before any bullet is fired, we may be puzzled by this detail — which arguably gets explained, after a fashion, when we return to the same scene much later in the film. I was surprised to be reminded of the unexplained rainfall glimpsed inside a house in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, but it occurred to me later that this parallel might not be as implausible as I supposed — and not just because De Palma is a compulsive moviegoer who sees a lot more than Hollywood product. (He has often noted that he’s virtually the only mainstream filmmaker who regularly attends foreign film festivals as a spectator.)
Tarkovsky — a formalist who’s often been misidentified as a humanist, perhaps because of his mysticism — sometimes showed a similar indifference to his characters, such as the family of the hero who burns his house down in the final sequence of his last film, The Sacrifice. Formalism and an absence of humanism don’t necessarily entail a lack of artistic seriousness. Indeed, looking for symmetry and coherence in a universe that seems to consist only of chaotic fragments from other movies — a very contemporary and very real dilemma — might constitute a genuine quest for transcendence.