AND SOME 'PASSION' REVIEWS FROM TIFF
Brian De Palma is pictured here from earlier today at the Variety & Ortsbo Live In Toronto broadcast, which runs daily at 7pm eastern. I guess it's not actually live, though, as it appears that De Palma has already done his part. I am thinking that they will run the De Palma interview Tuesday night, since that is when Passion premieres at the festival. De Palma also spoke with Anne Thompson this afternoon at Indiewire's TIFF Filmmakers Lounge (see Instagram photo at bottom of this post). Rachel McAdams is expected to attend tonight's premiere of Terrence Malick's To The Wonder.
SUBTEXT OF 'PASSION' DELVES "INTO REALM OF SOCIAL & ECONOMIC TERRITORY"
Meanwhile, Slant's Jordan Cronk has posted the most thoughtful and descriptive (and positive) review of Passion that I've read so far. "As Pino Donaggio's dramatically sensual score... greets the opening titles of Passion, De Palma's first film in five years, it's clear that this master of the erotic thriller is back on home turf, with all the luscious violence, sensationalistic flourishes, and base pleasures that has come to entail."
Here are the last three paragraphs or so of Cronk's review:
As in many of De Palma's great wars of will, there's just enough of Christine reflected in Isabelle to trigger the aesthetic and narrative techniques—visual doublings, doppelgangers, voyeurism, shifting identities—needed to ignite the stylistic formulations on which the film hinges.
Close readings of De Palma's work in this mode often prompt accusations of shallowness and questions regarding the level of seriousness at play beyond the surface. And if Passion does indeed lack substance, I'd argue that it features at least the necessary amount of subtext to carry it's outlandish plot past parody (which it does directly engage with on occasion) and into the realm of social and economic commentary. The first half of the film is particularly critical of the work environment that brings these women into physical and psychological contact. Christine's rise to executive prominence has apparently coincided with the loss of her ability to engage emotionally despite selling tales of a damaged past in an effort to elicit sympathy from Isabelle, who herself can't advance professionally without ceding to her superiors and engaging in morally compromising situations. Technology is likewise prodded as computers, cell phones, and various recording devices facilitate greed, blackmail, and corruption.
This is obviously material ripe for dramatic staging, and De Palma continues to deploy his trademark aesthetic touches with a master's hand. After undercutting Isabelle with a particularly evil display of public embarrassment, the movie shifts tones from corporate drama to psychosexual thriller, with canted angles, split-screen dioramas, and dramatically shadowed sequences of violence and eroticism (though it's surprising how little actual sex is on display here). De Palma utilizes Rapace's blank features as another surface from which to refract the drama, while McAdams's glowing visage is exploited to its fullest extent, transforming from plastic grin to a unchecked rage to outpourings of tears, sometimes within the same scene. Their hair, wardrobe, even postures, are in direct contrast to one another, and in typical De Palma fashion, their varying states of mental stability are questioned and eventually collapsed as visions fold into dreams and dreams engage with waking life, to the point where one is nearly inseparable by the time the film closes.
The film occasionally veers perilously close to losing the thread, but at all times it's apparent who is truly pulling the strings and manipulating these characters, as scenes oftentimes dramatically contradict one another only to play off the tension provoked by such juxtapositions just to pull the rug out from under the viewer. De Palma has long since abandoned verisimilitude, but there's an emotional truth to the narrative that precludes reading these characters strictly as ciphers. The mileage De Palma has gotten out of this formula, which itself is a knowing revision of the modes of the classic thriller construct, is impressive. And while Passion never demands anything above direct engagement with our basic fears and emotions, it's all the more fun when one allows the surface pleasures to bolster its themes, thus enhancing our understanding of De Palma and his continued pursuit of realizing the potential of the cinematic form.
CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING
Exclaim's Robert Bell suggests that De Palma uses Alain Corneau's film as a template "to satirize and reference his entire career." According to Bell, once the two female executives begin backstabbing each other, "the melodramatic score and aesthetic go full-tilt insane, featuring endless candid angles and noir lighting up until a split-screen takes over during the climactic third act." Here are the last couple of paragraphs of Bell's review:
Amusingly, Christine tells a story about a dead twin sister, which references De Palma's Sisters and later plays a trick on Isabelle that clearly reflects on the callous treatment of Carrie. An actual shot reconstruction from Raising Cain pops up in the final moments and the Body Double mask is omnipresent. This just scratches the surface of the inside joke observations peppered throughout this increasingly ridiculous melodrama, making the actual storyline between Isabelle, Christine and an even lower hanging fruit, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), secondary to the intense stylization and comedy of self-criticism that Passion really is.
Still, McAdams clearly has a blast playing a calculating bitch and the inevitable hyper-stylized and meticulously edited climax sequence, which De Palma is known for, is as riveting in exaggerated comic form as it is in sincere thriller form.
It's just unfortunate that those unfamiliar with the director's work will have absolutely no context for the abstract and oblique tonal shifts or the references, leaving them to dismiss the film as terrible.
DE PALMA RETURNS MORE FRUITFULLY TO THE MULTIMEDIA TECHNIQUES OF 'REDACTED'
A.V. Club's Moel Murray writes, "As the two play a game of spy-vs.-spy, using corporate and personal secrets against each other, De Palma (via Corneau) comments on business ethics, cronyism, gender roles, and technology—in the latter case returning to some of the techniques of the multimedia experiment Redacted, but more fruitfully." Murray's fellow A.V. Club critic Scott Tobias adds, "De Palma’s vision of an office constructed of glass and screens is a witty play on transparency—no secrets can be obscured when every surface is a window."