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a la Mod:
NAIVE & LAZY TO APPROACH 'PASSION' ONLY AS CAMP
"The decision to take the narrative from the 2010 French film Love Crime by Alain Corneau might seem odd," writes Labuza, "and some of the angry reactions to Passion have approached the film naively by examining it only as camp (an easy task when you have lines like 'Do you think I don’t see what’s going on in that dyke brain of yours?'). But to dismiss Passion as nothing more than a film with an occasional interesting camera movement seems ignorant, if not downright lazy."
And camp is precisely the approach taken by Film School Rejects' Caitlin Hughes, who seems to assume that De Palma was aiming for camp. The opening of her Passion review tries to Film School the reader: "Good camp films know what they are doing. They manipulate the audience into feeling exaggerated sorts of emotion and possess a sort of bravura that makes them unabashedly watchable. Based on Alain Corneau’s 2010 film Love Crime, Brian De Palma’s new offering, Passion, is definitely campy, but oftentimes it borders on just plain stupid. It is aimlessly over-the-top with eye-rolling twists and turns – for nearly the last quarter of the film, De Palma wastes the audience’s time with fake out after fake out (just kidding, guys – she was dreaming… TIMES FIVE!). The director lacks the artfulness in filmmaking that he once possessed in classics like Dressed to Kill." (The latter film is classified by Hughes as "good camp.")
Hughes seems to be confused by the film: "Passion’s mostly generic look makes you yearn for the saturated filmy-ness that was indicative of De Palma’s earlier work. This film could be made by anyone and lacks many of the notable De Palma stylistic traits. Toward the end, he suddenly switches to heavy-handed chiaroscuro lighting, which then also abruptly stops. No symbolism behind this is made evident. This inconsistent cinematography in combination with De Palma regular Pino Donaggio’s bizarrely ‘80s-TV-movie-sounding score makes for quite the odd final product. Passion is so teetering on the edge of bad that it might end up being screened ironically in a couple of years, as Showgirls is now."
Hughes followed up her review a couple of days later with a side-by-side "cat fight" between Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls and Passion. Hughes' final verdict:
"It will, undoubtedly, be included at camp classic screenings, but it might take a while for its campiness to marinate in pop culture. Passion is campy, but Showgirls is beyond campy, thanks largely to Elizabeth Berkley. Cristal and Nomi have a pop culture rivalry for the ages that while they come close, Christine and Isabelle can’t quite match their hilarious badness."
Pinkerton continues, "The color-coded casting--McAdams is blonde, Rapace brunette, Herfurth a redhead--has nothing to do with the director's positioning the women as symbolic placeholders representing various aspects of femininity. They're not merely passive subjects. De Palma respects his heroines as equal participants in his masquerade, colleagues in the field of image-making--McAdams at one point appears with the 'Image' of a Koch Image sign iconographically situated behind her--working towards hidden objectives from under cover of their archetypal roles, less clearly-delineated personalities than stand-in avatars representing themselves in a real-world that is ever more dissonantly virtual, their every interaction offering multivalent readings.
"McAdams, for example, does a fine (faux-?) heart-to-heart with Rapace, crying (crocodile?) tears over the girlhood death of a twin sister, a scene whose almost parodic pathos confounds comfortable response--as does Passion. Like most De Palma, it works perfectly well as slinky 'fun trash'--all the while throwing off infinitely more ideas per minute than works which present themselves to the public under the cumbersome mantle of art."
(Regarding the "trash" aesthetic, note De Palma's comment to MUBI's Daniel Kasman: "That's what I also don't like, when they say 'shoddy' and 'trashy,' when we try to make these people look as gloriously beautiful as we can. I keep wondering, 'What are you watching? Are you watching the screen?'”)
An image from Frances Ha:
DE PALMA: Yeah, and we also have the advertisement for the [film's] ballet on Potsdamer's big screen, but I don't think many catch that.
KASMAN: One of the things I really love about your films is that they are real records of the technology being used at the time of their creation. With Passion, its use of Skype and cameras that can record video—you're no longer making phone calls, you're making video calls. When you're writing the screenplay, are you integrating this technology into your plotting?
DE PALMA: I'm very aware of technical innovations. I used to build computers when I was in high school, knew every new technical advance. That sort of Internet, computer stuff I sort of play with as a hobby. It's fascinating to me. The most strange thing you notice in the last ten years is everybody walking around with these things [picks up my cellphone]. I'm always looking at people walking down the street looking like this [peers intently at the screen, mimes touching the phone's buttons], talking across tables and doing this. So, I thought to use this as a sort of weapon, almost, in a movie, first start the whole things as a commercial for this experience. It's very funny, ironically with the new iPhone there's all these competing smartphones that have commercials which try to satirize this very use and experience. Originally, the cellphone commercial in the film was going to be based on something out of Inception. The whole movie deals with dreams and the creation of this idea from Noomi [Rapace]'s subconscious. I had this whole, very complicated, three level thing where they finally find the key and it's the key to a vault and in it's the Panasonic phone. But I had some director fans of mine read this, and they liked the script but said “You can't do Inception!” And I asked why, commercials are constantly copying movies; but they suggested I think of something else. I thought for a while and looked on the Internet and there was this commercial—that I replicated, practically. My commercial is based on a real one, with two girls, one of whom stuck a phone in her back pocket, had people staring at her ass while it photographed them, and put up on the Internet. It went viral but people found out a week or two later it was created by two advertising executives.
KASMAN: You say you replicated it, and while I haven't seen the original, one of the first shots of the commercial is very much your image, of a multi-paned mirror and the women refracted across it.
DE PALMA: We did add the mirrors, but it's very much like the original commercial.
KASMAN: Clearly whether directly or not, the original commercial is inspired by the sort of paranoia of surveillance technology you've been making films about for ages. I suppose you are satirizing something that is already playing off your cinema. Yet, in something like Dressed to Kill, this surveillance technology is a niche thing, the boy is a geek and he happens to have this as a hobby. Whereas now, at the end of your new film we see a character recording an entire crime with a cell phone—this is no longer an unusual act performed by an outsider. Any consumer now has a device in their pocket that can record a crime or blackmail a person.
DE PALMA: Or follow someone and record them.
KASMAN: Exactly. It's not strange any more, the potential seems to be pervasive.
DE PALMA: That was the whole idea, having the phones and their many uses play across the whole movie, leading into the surrealistic last dream. Phones are always ringing—that's something else I've observed: in a restaurant a phone rings and everyone grabs for theirs. It could be their phones, whose phone is it?
Meanwhile, The Moveable Fest's Stephen Saito provides a detailed account of how it all went down last night:
"Sitting on the right wing of the hall’s balcony, intended to be a public spot where a spotlight is traditionally drawn at the end of a film at the festival to garner an ovation, De Palma never left his seat, seemingly unflustered by this chain of events but not unconcerned. At first, arms crossed and then forming a temple with his hands triangulated at the bridge of his nose as if he were the Godfather, De Palma was consulted [by] Film Society of Lincoln Center programmer Scott Foundas, who in true consigliere fashion, would lean in on his left to give updates. Indeed, by the time Richard Peña appeared onstage once more to tell the audience he was 'mortified' to report the projectionists had no further luck, a hit had happened and like a quick cut in one of his films, De Palma had vanished.
"Only an hour earlier, Peña had been across the street at the Elinor Bunin Film Center’s Amphitheater reflecting back on some of the best and worst experiences he had in programming the New York Film Festival as part of a panel on the festival's selection committee. While he could laugh now about opening night miscalculations such as the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing, which Phillip Lopate chalked up to the acoustics at Avery Fisher Hall as much as the film’s grim tenor, he surely never endured a situation like what happened Saturday night. He told the audience at the Passion screening that the projectionists had unlocked the code that allowed the movie to be shown and tested a few minutes from it before audiences entered Alice Tully Hall, but when Passion was intended to ease into its place following the NYFF bumper, it had somehow locked up once more, with what one can assume were panicked calls to Technicolor and others to find a solution."
"Whatever the case, it was a humiliation. Pena, who had to keep coming onstage to deliver the worsening news, said that the DCP has been tested without incident minutes before showtime, but minus a code had somehow locked down. Minus someone who could fix the code that was it for the evening. That’s not the movies we knew and loved; that’s a plot contrivance on an episode of 24. Maybe they should rename Digital Cinema Package HAL, in honor of 2001‘s errant computer.
"After a half hour or so of waiting Pena announced that audience members who couldn’t stay could get refunds at the boxoffice. Only 10-15% seemed to. Which was touching; we wanted to see the movie and were willing to put up with the inconvenience. (I watched the French-made Love Crime, the basis of Passion, the other night and wanted to know, like, what was up with the masks? And the chokehold?) But it was out of Pena’s hands, or De Palma’s hands, or any human hands. It was a glitch in the machine, a hiccup in the software. And with that the 50th anniversary of the New York Film Festival was tainted."
The Moveable Fest's Stephen Saito says Passion is De Palma's "most gleefully pleasurable film" since Femme Fatale, adding that De Palma takes Alain Corneau's Love Crime "and turns it into something decidedly more European." Saito feels that the style of the film's first half is overdone, perhaps as a way to cover up "a skimpy plot," adding that "the film never resembles a recognizable reality."
"Though both leads appear to be game for anything the film has in store for them – the sex toys, the sapphic advances, the Kabuki masks – only McAdams seems to truly be in on the joke," writes Saito, "relishing every every double entendre or double cross to pass through her perfectly affixed ruby red lips. However, Rapace, sans the nosering and the body ink from Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, continues to suggest what was so effective in portraying rebellious posturing once can be frustratingly stiff elsewhere. To some degree, Rapace’s limited range of emotiveness works as cool detachment after she attempts to liberate herself from the hierarchy of her workplace, but it’s only when her character begins to loosen up that the film can too, even as her stare remains frozen.
"Once Passion kicks into its second gear, it’s as if DePalma finds his compass, his peerless sense of geography once again evident in navigating a gnarled plot as it unravels, presented elegantly in the physical spaces where it unfolds. Shamelessly overwrought yet carefully constructed, it’s at once an acknowledgement of the times and the work of a true master."
Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky says that Passion amplifies Corneau's story "into an endless hall of mirrors and cameras, screens within screens, monitors of different shapes and sizes; this does not just create a sense of ever-shifting paranoia but makes Christine and Isabelle less flesh-and-blood characters than refracted and recorded images of themselves—and thus as untrustworthy as facsimiles."
For Koresky, "Passion is light on its feet," despite the self-referential subtext running throughout. "Artificiality is the name of the distinctively De Palma game here," writes Koresky, "from the workplace-as-fashion-catwalk aesthetic to the satisfying archness of the two lead performances. McAdams, who, perhaps because of her wholesome, enormous facial features, is often asked to turn on the good-girl charm, is effectively reprising her bitch shtick from Mean Girls here, and it’s a welcome return. With her little-girl voice and transparent pout, she always seems like a high-schooler playing dress-up, an essential disparity that many will scoff as 'bad casting,' but which ultimately highlights the superficiality and stunted-growth mindset of the milieu: after all, these are sophisticates who have to tap into their inner tween to properly appeal to the public’s craving for stuff, with the American market their ultimate goal (Christine is angling for a New York transfer from her German office). Rapace, who heavily rehearsed her deer-in-headlights look in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, is called upon to radiate blandness, and her plasticky chipmunk facelessness only grows more frighteningly serene as the film progresses to its Grand Guignol final half-hour."
Koresky later describes the cinematography by José Luis Alcaine as "a mixture of blinding-white austerity and seductive panache," adding that "the exquisite-corporate visuals of Passion eloquently provide backdrop for the escalating one-upmanship enacted by these two backstabbers."
Koresky concludes his review with these two paragraphs:
"In a sense, this is the most apt form of remake, digging in with both hands and finding the material’s potential to be something else. Passion might at first appear to be Love Crime’s identical other, but just as Christine might never have actually had the twin sister she claims to have tragically lost in a suspiciously heartfelt monologue, appearances can be deceiving, and the truth can be double-edged. In the final half-hour, Passion barely resembles Love Crime at all, preferring instead to reconfigure the climax of De Palma’s own Dressed to Kill, itself a hyper-stylized, übersexual reimagining of Psycho, into a bizarre, free-associative nightmare. One could read the final segment as a main character’s guilt-stricken fever dream leading straight to hell, or simply as De Palma’s confession that all cinema is remake. Either way, in the movies we’re living on borrowed time."
Hassenger continues, "Actually, maybe the NYFF should've outright reversed its play on words; I get the feeling that to De Palma, movies like Passion are non-fiction. But to anyone else, the first 30-40 minutes of Passion will appear stilted (at least in terms of concerns secondary to De Palma like dialogue and behavior), albeit fascinatingly. Rachel McAdams, dressed in a series of weirdly unflattering outfits (high-waisted pants, turtleneck blouses), plays Christine, head of a powerful ad agency, or consulting company, or something; the point is, she's the boss of Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), and they engage in an ongoing friendship-slash-competition, with plenty of flirting-slash-backstabbing. The suspense of the movie has little to do with whether Isabelle will receive credit for her mobile-phone ad idea or which working woman of the world will have revenge; rather, film geeks will reach the edge of their seats wondering when, exactly, De Palma will uncork.
"When he does, it's a feast of fetishized style: the directorial control of the first section gives way to canted angles, noirish blind shadows, POV shots, long takes, and a bravura trick of a split-screen sequence. The movie has plenty of showstoppers in its back half, but one of the most interesting doesn't contain any of the director's signature shocks of violence; the camera just follows Rapace out of her office, into an elevator, to her car in a parking garage, and into a fit of deep frustration and rage. All together, the movie isn't quite as nutty as Cain nor as movie-drunk as Fatale, but it's of their ilk: diabolical, a little deranged. Like De Palma's other palate-cleansers, it's more about its creator than its creations. Plus, there's nothing like seeing a De Palma picture with an audience of film critics; when it sees proper release, it's virtually guaranteed that the non-joke line "you have a twin sister?" will elicit knowing laughter."
TrustMovies' James van Maanen thinks Passion is "a lot of fun -- perhaps even more so for those of us (many, I would wager) who have already seen the earlier version. As a stylist, M. Corneau was quiet in the extreme (Love Crime was all icy blues and greys -- as icy as its leading lady, Kristin Scott Thomas -- particularly its interiors, which were 'corporate' to a fault.) De Palma, as usual, goes so over the top that you can't (and wouldn't want to) take your eyes off the screen. All or many of his signature tropes are here, from that huge staircase seen from above to the sudden, bloody slash of the knife, from fetish objects to twins. Not that he was the first to make use of any of these, but few have used them better."
And it wouldn't be as fun if we didn't include any of the purely negative reviews, right? Quiet Earth's Griffith Maloney says Passion is "a wreck" that "has an absolutely cop out ending." And Flixist's Hubert Vigilla says Passion is "heroically bad," adding that all the film "mustered from me were confused shakes of the head, a couple facepalms, and unintentional laughs. It's like some kind of anti-alchemy. It turns quality actors into histrionic amateurs, eroticism into slapstick." Yet, writes Vigilla, "Here's the weirdest thing: I can't hate a movie like Passion. It's so lovably awful, so bafflingly silly. That's what the movie is more than anything else: silly. It's like a dachshund wearing pearls and four tiny high heels. I had a good time watching it, giggling as the actors vamped to salvage the film. This is less like classic De Palma and more like Tommy Wiseau's homage to Brian De Palma. But you can't hate something like that. De Palma diehards will love this, though. They'll enjoy the excesses, the camp, the oodles of self-reference, the exercises in style. De Palma, at the very least, has succeeded in satisfying them."