A 2017 ESSAY ABOUT 'PASSION' FROM FILM FEST GENT
I happened upon this intriguing essay from December of 2017, about Brian De Palma's Passion, at Film Fest Gent. Here's an English translation from Dutch, with help from Google Translate:
The fact that Brian De Palma in 'Passion' not only beckons Hitchcock but also Fritz Lang, is of course primarily due to the basic intrigue he borrowed from 'Crime d'amour' (2010), the ultimate film by the French director Alain Corneau. Corneau's admiration for Lang was already apparent in one of his first films, 'Police Python 357' (1976): a gloomy police officer driven by a Langian destiny mechanism. In it, the cop on duty (Yves Montand) conducts an investigation that must inevitably lead to his own indictment of a murder that he did not commit.
In both 'Crime d'amour' and 'Passion' there is a plot twist that also formed the premise for Lang's last American thriller, 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' (1956). In it, the protagonist himself fabricates the burden of proof against himself in the hope of exonerating himself with a coup de théâtre. De Palma is of course more Hitchcockian than Langian and his free remake of a French film is therefore based on Hitchcock's favorite motif of deduplication, which in 'Vertigo' (1958) was pushed to the extreme - abstract and quasi-geometrical.
'Passion' largely takes place in a Berlin advertising agency where three young she-wolves are at each other's throats, initially in a quasi-civilized way, but becoming increasingly predatory and aggressive. Women who differ greatly in ranking in the company but are completely interchangeable when it comes to gluttony, desire and greed. Initially everything revolves around the power games between blonde bitch Christine (Rachel McAdams) and her seemingly innocent, dark-haired protégée Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) to whom she gives an expensive scarf as a gift but also steals her ideas at the same time, which Isabelle hits back at. Isabelle, in turn, also has an assistant (Karoline Herfuth) who does not go unnoticed and eventually gets a bigger role in the plot twists than her initial screen time suggests.
Power, eros, humiliation and sadomasochistic strategies in the executive suite have been widely covered in Hollywood, from forties melodramas with Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck to the controversial Demi Moore vehicle 'Disclosure' (1994). The environment in which the clever ladies from 'Passion' maneuver was certainly not chosen by chance: the most critical American director of his generation sees the advertising agency as the quintessence of neo-capitalist lust for power where the desire to dominate the other and thus also the taking over the identity and body of the other, takes extreme forms until one woman Persona-like transitions into the other.
Here, De Palma also makes maximum use of the shiny, reflective and transparent architecture and dynamism of the new Berlin, where an artificial high-tech visual delusion has been created on the ruins of a guilty and criminal past of double dictatorships (the filming locations are mainly situated in the former East -Berlin and the former no man's land between east and west: Frank Gehry's DZ bank, Helmut Jahn's Sony Center and the eerie-looking new building in the residential embassy district).
Above all, De Palma amuses himself with his mise en abîme of a world of visual constructions. For decades, De Palma has portrayed our world as an arena of screens in his films. In this new Berlin, the multiplication of screens as Lang prophetically announced them in the 'Dr. Mabuse' films that appear in the three periods of his German career (the silent film 'Dr. Mabuse der Spieler uit' 1921-1922; the sound film 'Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse' from 1932; the post-Hollywood film 'Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse' from 1960), became reality. Everywhere there are cameras set up, there are indiscreet glances, people are spied on, recorded, eavesdropped and monitored.
The erotic thriller plot is based on a number of confrontations and exchanges on Skype, conference calls, smartphones, videos thrown on YouTube, evidence captured by surveillance cameras. The result is a destabilizing game of voyeurism and exhibitionism, often intertwined and taken over in some key scenes by the good old split screen technique, in which the screen itself is cut in half so that the choreography of the murder runs parallel (or asynchronously) with a real choreography, L'Après-Midi d'un faune.
In his previous film 'Redacted' (2007), De Palma used an even more disorienting mix of various image types to reveal different layers of subjectivity and objectivity, truth and falsehood, fact and fabrication. Here he uses this strategy for a pure style exercise. For the DePalma admirer, 'Passion' can also be enjoyed as one long walk through the fetishes, obsessions and hobbies of the director who here updates his playful erotic thrillers from the eighties and nineties ('Dressed to Kill', 'Body Double', 'Raising Cain'), complete with the comeback of his regular composer Pino Donaggio who once again delivers a teasing lyrical score.
A film also in which De Palma gives free rein to his passion to bring female beauty to the lens in the most fetishistic way. Only this happens here compared to De Palma's related thrillers in such a purified form that the film also has something skeletal, despite the sensually seductive visuals and camera movements. Exactly: like the late films of Fritz Lang.