by Alex Greenberger
Brian De Palma doesn’t care what you think of his film. That’s the one recurring trend anyone can notice throughout his massive résumé, and it’s a common theme that’s even more obvious in ways than his predilection for nudity, split-screens, diopter shots and stylish homages to Hitchcock. Seeing as De Palma still has yet to change after all these years (“Femme Fatale” retains the scrumptious anti-academicism of “Body Double”), “Passion” is no exception.
“Passion” is another defiantly satirical film from De Palma, and therefore it’s a work that’s sure to polarize for years to come. For De Palma’s fans (of which I am one), “Passion” is going to be an extremely rewarding experience, complete with diabolical lesbians, mistaken identities, twins and comments on gender roles. For his detractors, this will be another miserable failure, complete with awful dialogue, mediocre performances and baroque twists.
But again, Brian De Palma doesn’t care what you think of his film, which, this time, applies his feminist ideas to the work place in a tale of corporate ambition, so what does it matter anyway? In “Passion,” Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace play a boss and her protégé, respectively (or is it the other way around?), whose emotions become intertwined with business, which, of course, leads to disastrous consequences. If this doesn’t sound appealing, I should probably add that the poster used to market this film shows McAdams and Rapace in near-lip-lock. So yes, in case you were wondering, De Palma really was doing whatever the hell he wanted to do, as opposed to either remaining faithful to Alain Corneau’s “Love Crime,” the film upon which this is based, or catering to critics.
And De Palma is at his guiltily pleasurable finest when he displays formal brilliance in jest, so “Passion” is unquestionably fun. For the first half, which may be a bit more stolid (and, as a result, a little less successful) than typical De Palma fare, it’s just one entertaining sequence after another. “Passion,” at its start, plays like a parody of workforce melodrama—something like “Disclosure, maybe—with awesomely bad crying and a purposefully overconfident score from Pino Donaggio. Even the performances point to a masterful dissection of the melodrama—McAdams brilliantly says “Call me NEVER!” and throws her phone to the ground with such panache that it’s hard not to be entranced by the intentional mediocrity of this movie.
But at a critical moment, one that of course involves a split-screen, since this is the world of Brian De Palma, the film snaps and becomes so formally refined—everything seems to click together at once, and the narrative dramatically perks up. Eventually, “Passion” becomes a (or maybe “regresses into” is a better, more psychologically apt choice of words) series of psychosexual dreams within dreams, something sort of like a stylized soft-core porn, and transitions away from a parody of melodrama in favor of a comically reverent examination of the “mind fuck” thriller.
It almost goes without saying that the split-screen sequence, which juxtaposes a Claude Debussy ballet with a complex murder and then proceeds to weave in and out of the murderer’s subjectivity, is stunning. But it’s José Luis Alcaine’s super-saturated photography (Alcaine is the cinematographer for Pedro Almodóvar) that shines in this film. His beautiful, tight close-ups of the film’s plethora of ridiculous designer shoes are marvelous, but that, combined with De Palma’s directorial abilities, make this film yet another formally concerned (and successful) work.
By “Passion’s” end, an extended and astronomically suspenseful sequence in which De Palma ends up making self-indulgent, lengthy allusions to his own work, namely “Dressed to Kill.” That may be considered disrespectful to its audience for many other directors, but this is a De Palma film, and therefore this kind of style is a treat. Watching “Passion” is kind of like eating a fried Oreo—it’s so awful, and yet it just tastes too good to resist going for round two.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.