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Monday, September 16, 2013

This post contains SPOILERS for Passion

ITALKYOUBORED posted an essay about Brian De Palma's Passion last month that looks at the film as "a corporate world retelling of the Christ story." The essay carries some fascinating ideas about the film's subtext-- here are a couple of passages:

"[The Black] Dahlia was a portrait of Hollywood written in venom; Passion is a portrait of the corporate state drawn in arsenic. I do not think the title is an idle one – it is most definitely a play on the eternal passion, The Passion, as in The Passion of the Christ, a ridiculing of the modern ideal of corporation as creed, corporate life as the new religion, the corporation as a new christianity. The company which Christine and Isabelle work for is Koch Image International, and the coincidence of the name with a villainous fraternity is not, I think, idle either. The film is by an older man, yet it is a provocation on the order of Harmony Korine, undetected by viewers and critics: a corporate world re-telling of the Christ story. Christine’s name is a carryover from the original, but with a specific meaning: Christine."

The essay's author views Christine as an eternal martyr, citing the monologue in which she tells Isabelle about the twin sister who saved Christine's life. "When she gives this speech," reads the essay, "she of course wears a cross, but one appropriate to a corporate god: we’re unsure if it is has any significance other than jewelry, and most importantly, it has a very sharp end, so sharp you could stab someone with it."

In addition, "Christine has a disciple, but this disciple is a Judas, and gives her what is known as a Judas kiss." The author adds that Christine somehow "rises from the dead after a few days."

The author also delves into the costumes:

"Passion is a re-telling of the Christ story, but as a pagan tale. Christine starts out in the same mysterious gray as the title character of Femme Fatale before she takes on her new identity; then it becomes clear she is a sun god, and she is the only one to wear white outfits, then every color of the prism. She is a god of a materialist age as well, so she always wears jewelry, often ostentatious diamond pieces, and lives in a house with roman pornography and a Louis XV sofa.

"There is only one color she does not wear, and this appears in the shoes she wears in her resurrection. The death and return to life of the pagan god represented the cycle of the harvest, so of course the one missing color is the obvious one in a revived pagan god, a return to spring: green. She is a pagan god, but also a god of an uber consumer age, so the color of the resurrection shows up on pricey heels that Christine once loved."

The essay continues by looking closely at the costumes worn by Isabelle and Dani, with side-by-side comparisons with Love Crime appearing throughout. It also looks at the split-screen sequence, as well as the final dream sequence:

"The final sequence is a resolution of the idea of movies as revenge fantasy, images without consequence. Isabelle finds herself under someone’s will again, her escape from Christine only resulting in her confinement under Dani. The final dream sequence embodies all that is within her, a fear that she will be exposed for the murder, but also the simpler fear that she, this cryptic character, will be exposed, the way the sex tape exposed her. Isabelle does not want to be punished for the murder, and yet she wants to be punished. She wanted Christine dead, but she also wants her alive again. In this dream, both things happen, with Christine’s twin alive, and Christine’s twin magically appearing behind Isabelle in order to choke her to death. We in the audience wished Christine would die, without Isabelle being guilty, and in another movie we would have been granted this wish entirely: a villain like Christine would be killed, and after the hero was wrongly accused, the true killer would turn out to be someone else. We now wish Isabelle to escape her confinement from Dani, and yet we don’t want her to be a murderer. The audience is given its wish and it is taken away at the very same time, a reflection of this idea of images without consequences, dreams without any conenction to reality. We wish to dive into a mad fantasy of revenge, and then return to the sane world; we are here given our fantasy, but we are forbidden an escape. Isabelle chokes Dani to death, in a sequence nearly as graphic as Torn Curtain, with Isabelle’s face twisted into something of animal-like fury, yet it turns out to be but a dream, perhaps everything was a dream, but no: Dani is dead, strangled by Isabelle in her sleep."

Posted by Geoff at 1:38 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 6:54 AM CDT
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Friday, September 13, 2013
Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader
"The movie finds De Palma at his most playful (or grandiose, depending on your point of view) since Femme Fatale—it's the sort of movie his fans usually eat right up. (I'm not even a De Palma fan, and I had loads of fun watching it.)

"Many of the compositions exhibit classical virtues of symmetry and opposition. De Palma regularly dresses the dark-haired Rapace in all-black and the blonde McAdams in white or red. Even before De Palma starts introducing preposterous coincidences and double crosses, the characters register as doppelgangers—Rapace's flat underplaying seems intended to compliment McAdams's exuberant hamminess (which is a hoot, by the way). Likewise, the women's professional rivalry—a totally arbitrary power struggle within a multinational advertising firm—is underscored by intimations of sexual attraction. Once De Palma establishes these basic oppositions, he goes wild finding different ways to recombine—and re-double—them. When McAdams's character confesses to having a twin sister, it feels inevitable.

"Passion is a superficial film, but not an empty one. Amidst in the visual motifs, De Palma manages to touch on the following themes: corporate power, advertising, sexual desire, sadomasochistic relationships, and longing for love. The movie doesn't offer a coherent statement about any of these subjects, though De Palma interweaves them with a musicality comparable to his visual style. There's an odd poignancy to those moments where the themes related to dominance intersect with those related to vulnerability, suggesting that the pursuit of classical synthesis carries the risk of annihilation."

Will Noah, Double Exposure
"The film’s first half consists of deliberate set-up, or, to quote De Palma’s introduction to the film at last year’s NYFF, 'two black widow spiders circling each other.' At the midway point of the film, though, De Palma shifts into overdrive, bathing his images in blue light, slashing his compositions with diagonal lines, and piling twist after twist onto the increasingly frenzied narrative. The movie peaks in this half with a virtuoso split-screen sequence juxtaposing a ballet performance with a murder shot from the attacker’s perspective. This high-wire act justifies the movie’s existence on its own, hitting the dissertation-fodder-with-a-pulse sweet spot of De Palma’s best work.

"Passion has a hard time topping that brilliant set piece, though it sure tries, breaking into a last-act flop sweat that produces exhilaration and exhaustion in equal measure. That the movie ultimately collapses on itself is not much of a surprise; what’s more interesting is the paranoid atmosphere that the collapse generates. Above all, Passion is a movie fixated on the plastic qualities of images; as much as De Palma is interested in logos and fetishized bodies, he’s even more captivated by the digital forms that mediate them. In this film about deception, video is the ultimate shape-shifter, fulfilling many functions, often at once: advertising, surveillance, communication, pornography, evidence. The fact that De Palma shot Passion on celluloid seems not just a result of his automatic preference for the format, but a concerted attempt to assimilate all these forms of video under the old-fashioned heading of cinema. The fact that he doesn’t entirely succeed, ending up with a heap of jagged edges rather than a unified aesthetic whole, doesn’t constitute a failure so much as a psychological portrait of our image-saturated society. Passion is not merely an uneven erotic thriller; it’s a nightmare reflection of the confusion we face in a world where images manipulate us as much as we control them."

Robert Bell, Exclaim!
"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."

Ian Bartholomew, Taipea Times
"McAdams and Rapace are beautiful pawns in De Palma’s own manipulative exercise in which he toys with the audience’s expectations, making uncertainty feel deliciously exciting. Complex, sometimes even a little confusing, De Palma always keeps things under control in this gorgeously orchestrated symphony of jealousy, betrayal and violence."

Tom Stoup, Sound On Sight
"The operatic Passion is pulpy perfection. By now Brian De Palma could probably sleepwalk his way through such material, but to his credit he appears to still be giving it his tireless all."

Bruce DeMara, The Toronto Star
"For a film with so much kink, seduction and sex, the film fails so badly in its execution —despite a quite promising first act — that one’s ultimate reaction is likely to be indifference, bemusement or outright disdain considering the pedigree of the filmmaker helming the project."

Chris Knight, Postmedia News
"The film, with its melodramatic score, numerous Dutch tilts, endless shots of people waking from nightmare imaginings and a bizarre split screen during a dance recital, looks like it’s trying to be the Black Swan of the advertising world. It’s a lofty ambition, but the problem with such a tightrope act is that one slip will kill the movie."

Harrison Foster, Just Press Play
"Passion, as a film, has a mind of its own as well, and a philosophical agenda that's even more consistent and explicit than that. Hiding in plain sight as what will seem a waste of time to most audiences, and a huge disappointment to most De Palma devotees, Passion slyly emerges as a manifesto of hostility toward new technologies, and movie culture's transition from cinema to streaming.

"It opens with an extreme close-up of that ubiquitous image that has found its way into not only what feels like every movie we watch, but every direction we look outside of the screen – that glowing white apple. Sure, that computer company's logo has been in films for years now, for much longer than people have lined up for its new products (in fact, its cinematic prevalence is one of the main reasons people starting lining up in the first place), but the product placement has never been this blatant, this transparent, or this loud. This goes beyond the allegedly satirical yet still effective ads peppered throughout Minority Report – a glowing apple that so obscenely dominates the frame inspires revulsion, not budgeting for a new small screen."

Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail
"All of this is utterly non-naturalistic, with trite dialogue and broadly drawn performances. Shot in intense colours by Pedro Almodovar’s cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, it all resembles a melodrama performed on a fashion set. The schematic design is deliberately obtrusive: Isabelle has her own admiring hottie assistant, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), this time a redhead, to complement the blond Christine and brunette Isabelle. All this makes Passion, in a conventional sense, a bad movie: The performances are stiffly artificial, the characters’ machinations preposterous.

"It just happens to be a bad movie that’s good to look at. Then, at about the two-thirds mark, De Palma pushes the film to a new level of abstraction, in its pattern of doubling, coupling and severing images. It begins with a split screen: On the left is a modern-dance performance, set to Claude Debussy’s L’après-midi d’un faune – the recital will later serve as one of the characters’ alibi for a murder. On the right, we see the murder conducted with similar meticulous choreography.

The movie’s last third features more attention-grabbing camera moves, more bondage-gear footwear, more barred shadows, more plot complications and, for genre’s sake, a hang-dog middle-aged detective, Inspector Bach (Rainer Bock), who’s dumb enough to try to figure it out. By this point, the movie feels almost experimentally detached from its characters, a giddy assemblage of shots that summarize De Palma’s contribution to the thriller genre. There’s passion here all right, but it’s for the filmmaking, not the film."

Posted by Geoff at 12:55 AM CDT
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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Brian De Palma's Passion opens tomorrow in Canada and Taiwan, and also continues in U.S. theaters, keeping some and adding others. Passion will continue at Chicago's Music Box Theater and at Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema for two more midnight shows at each venue Friday and Saturday. It also continues at New York's IFC Center and Miami's Koubek Theater. Theaters that we know (so far) will be adding Passion beginning tomorrow are the Criterion Cinemas at Movieland in Richmond, Virginia, Criterion Cinemas in New Haven, CinemaSalem, and the Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood.

Posted by Geoff at 6:58 PM CDT
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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Posted by Geoff at 10:58 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:59 PM CDT
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Screen Daily's Geoffrey Macnab posted an article yesterday about the upcoming slate of films from Saïd Ben Saïd's SBS Productions, providing more details about De Palma's next project with his Passion producer. For starters, the article states that the fantastic Emily Mortimer will play the lead in the film, which is described as a "loose adaptation of Emile Zola's Therese Raquin, featuring both period and contemporary elements." Macnab reports that "the story is about a film director and two actors shooting a movie version of Zola's novel and finding that it reflects experiences in their own lives."

Back in February, we linked to an article from CineObs' Nicolas Schaller (the original article appears to be defunct at this time) in which Ben Saïd is quoted about a new project he was then developing with De Palma, but without providing any title. "This is a film about cinema that is not devoid of humor or cruelty," Ben Saïd told Schaller. "It happens on a shoot between a director, an actor and an actress. De Palma wrote it by drawing on things that have happened to him. It is a kind of film testament."

Ben Saïd, whose upcoming slate also includes films by Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, David Mamet, Philippe Garrel, and Pascal Bonitzer, tells Macnab, "I am very much director-driven. I like to produce movies I enjoy to watch."

(Thanks to Chris and David!)

Posted by Geoff at 12:30 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, December 8, 2013 3:57 PM CST
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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back in June, when the first trailer for Luc Besson's The Family appeared, we noted that it opens with Robert De Niro, who played Al Capone in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, narrating, "There was a time when I had it all. People would ask me, 'What was it like being untouchable?'" The line simultaneously brings to mind the De Palma film, as well as, perhaps, Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas, in which De Niro also starred, but which ended with main character Henry Hill, who narrates about having it all, joining the witness protection program. The Family, which Scorsese has lent his name to as executive producer, finds De Niro's character stuck in a similar situation, and wanting his old life back.

In this new trailer (above), De Niro at one point, apparently reading from his character's memoir, tells us, "Al Capone always said, 'Asking politely with a gun in your hand is better than just asking politely.'" What Capone actually is quoted as saying in real life (and what De Niro says as Capone in The Untouchables) is, "You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."

Posted by Geoff at 6:05 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 11:38 PM CDT
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Posted by Geoff at 12:37 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 12:58 AM CDT
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Monday, September 9, 2013

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
"Imagine the Paul Thomas Anderson of There Will Be Blood making a Brian De Palma movie, or Claire Denis directing Christopher Nolan’s Memento. While those superlatives do give you a taste of the striking, sensual disposition simmering in the French-Canadian filmmaker’s engrossing and provocative psychological thriller, it actually does a disservice to Villeneuve’s superb craft and darkened vision that truly has coalesced into something extraordinary this year."

Posted by Geoff at 5:34 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 12:44 AM CDT
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Here is another batch of links to reviews of Passion, as well as an article from the Los Angeles Times' David Ng about the dancing in some of Brian De Palma's films. Of the ballet sequence in Passion, Ng writes, "The spare production, in which a man and a woman approach and repel each other, is a ballet about the ballet, in much the same way as De Palma's movies have always been about the movies.

"[Jerome] Robbins had his two dancers look directly at the audience, a deliberate attempt to break the fourth wall. De Palma replicates this by having the dancers -- Polina Semionova and Ibrahim Oyku Onal of the Staatsballett Berlin -- look directly into the camera. (The split screen acts as a kind of theatrical proscenium.)

"Their direct gaze is the visual inverse of the action in the second half of the screen -- a grisly murder sequence shot from the point of view of an intruder, with the camera assuming the killer's eyes. The effect is twofold: On the left side of the screen, we are being watched; on the right, we are doing the watching."

Here are some other Passion reviews:

Todd Sokolove, Forces Of Geek ("In Defense of Passion")
"I've never been an apologetic Brian De Palma fan and I'm not about to start apologizing. Recognized and celebrated by many a film geek, and seemingly the entire country of France, De Palma makes polarizing films that often split audiences and critics down the middle. His latest release, Passion, is no exception. It's a kaleidoscope of the auteur's prominent themes and performed tricks. It too, is not for everyone. This new "erotic thriller" has current Rotten Tomatoes score of 36%, but I'd be willing to bet it only fuels DePalma's indifference. Passion presents some sly critique on technology's ability to make anybody an entertainment content creator. I highly doubt he cares about technology's influence on the anybody-can-be-a-film-critic world wide web."

Sokolove also advises to "watch for some great in-joke moments in Passion, including an exact reproduction of a set up from Psycho."

Noel Murray, The Dissolve
"Before Passion ends, De Palma comes through with two sequences (neither of which originated with Love Crime) that can stand among his best: one where Christine is stalked on half a split-screen while the other half shows a fourth-wall-breaking performance of The Afternoon Of A Faun, and another that wordlessly sends four characters in pursuit of each other inside and outside Isabelle’s apartment.

"That latter scene—Passion’s big finish—doesn’t make much literal sense, given what precedes it. The ending is a complete De Palma invention, serving as a loosely related epilogue to the main story, much like the codas De Palma added to his films Carrie and Dressed To Kill. The scene is also a complete hoot. Passion makes glancing comments about ethics, cronyism, and a corporate culture that encourages employees to be cutthroat so long as it helps the company, but as always with De Palma, he’s more riffing on these ideas than making coherent, illuminating statements. He’s primarily interested in choreographing masterful setpieces, where every camera move is precise and the tone is heightened to the point of being tongue-in-cheek.

"Which isn’t to say that Passion is empty. De Palma gets some comic mileage out of the differences between the extroverted, brightly attired Christine and the chillier Isabelle—who can’t even work up a convincing 'I love you' when she has to—which is a sly way of confounding the convention of the femme fatale. (Depending on the viewer’s perspective, the villain of Passion could be Christine, Isabelle, or even Isabelle’s sycophantic assistant Dani, played by Karoline Herfurth.)"

Joshua Brunsting, Criterioncast
"A film chock full of melodramatic twists and turns, this film may be as close to the cinematic manifestation of everything De Palma believes aesthetically, and in that this becomes one of De Palma’s liveliest and most engaging works in at least 20 years. And in that De Palma truly becomes this film’s guiding light and inarguably the most interesting and important factor. Lavishly shot by Jose Luis Alcaine, this piece of work truly seems to be De Palma working at not so much the height of his aesthetic powers, but getting down to the pure seemingly animalistic core of his appreciation for things like German expressionism and, especially, film noir. There are stunning sequences here of beautifully lit sets that seem ripped right out of the cake noir that is Fritz Lang’s Ministry Of Fear, that film’s energy and aesthetic vitality seemingly injected straight into De Palma’s DNA. We also get various handheld sequences and seemingly first person shots that De Palma has been working with since his masterpiece, Blow Out, and even finding De Palma giving love to his key calling card, the brazen aesthetic shocker that is then split diopter shot. Passion is, at its very best, a stunningly shot meditation on the style of film noir, giving a deliciously De Palma sense of eroticism to things that would have become perfect fodder for a filmmaker like the aforementioned Lang."

Ray Pride, New City Film
"From reel to reel, Passion plays less like a succession of expected De Palma setpieces, than as individual, shorter films, each in their own volatile, sometimes clumsy fashion."

Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
"In Passion, Brian De Palma attempts to bring his trademark style of psycho-sexual thrills to the arena of corporate politics. The result is a ridiculous but entertaining mess. The movie teeters on the edge of camp for awhile, then plunges in headlong."

Posted by Geoff at 1:16 AM CDT
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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Posted by Geoff at 4:59 PM CDT
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