Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2012 11:51 am 
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De Palma being De Palma doing Corneau

Brian De Palma's Passion will please his ardent fans but this close but uninvolving remake of the late Alain Corneau's last film Love Crime (RV 2011) is just eye candy. Its slight variations on the already far-fetched original and its new casting do not impress. Corneau was making a sort of Hitchcock thriller. It's an old school film noir that set itself a problem: how about getting away with the perfect crime by first making yourself look guilty? The already dated quality of Corneau's movie may have been what De Palma liked. De Palma has added a kind of Almodovar-esque gloss (with some pointless split-screen ballet images and cross-cutting that may owe something, with the bright color, to the Spanish director). He has made an even less realistic movie and tried to make the emotions more extreme and the hi-tech touches more numerous. Though his addition of Skype calls, cell-phone videos and security cameras adds a suggestive modern touch, none of these additions to Corneau's version really work. This is such a decadent effort, even the perfect crime theme gets submerged in the obsession with baroque beauty and campy style.

One is in the awkward position here of trying to show how a movie fails to live up to the standards of another one that was not that great to begin with. But however much De Palma outdoes himself this time, he loses the good qualities Corneau's movie had. In Corneau's 2010 version (and Love Crime/Crime d'amour is a better title than Passion, by the way), Kristen Scott Thomas was Christine, the chilly, dominant CEO of a European corporation, and Ludivine Sagnier was Isabelle, her admiring, manipulated surrogate whose jealousy and anger lead her to homicide. Rachel McAdams is far less effective as Christine, and much younger. It's hard to see her as a CEO. Scott Thomas' haughty elegance and fluency in French and English and her age put her in another category altogether. As Isabelle, Sagnier gave one of her best performances, full of insecurity and eagerness. Noomi Rapace, who has disappointed in her new Hollywood star status so far, is too mousy and strange looking to be someone a powerful female CEO would take on and even pretend to consider as a lover. De Palma predictably hits the lesbian theme far harder, as part of generally upping the camp level of the film, also predictable. The original idea was that Isabelle didn't quite know where she stood with Christine. Despite the luridness of Rapace's and McAdams smooches and more lip-locking with Dani (Karoline Herfurth), Isabelle's German assistant, who's not only a female but an intense lesbian in this new version, De Palma generates less intensity overall than Corneau did because of the lack of psychological realism.

The subtlety of Corneau's movie (which disappears in its hokey post-crime segment) is in how it shows the cruel manipulations of the corporate world, the greed, jealousy and ambition. These work well because Scott Thomas, Sagnier, and Patrick Mille as Philippe, a suave, attractive male employee whom the two women share and whom Christine blackmails, fit so well together. Again the casting fails De Palma because the English actor Paul Anderson is a caricature who seems stressed out and over-the-top from when he first appears. Corneau's office scenes are more believable. He is better at conveying the sense of high-powered business dealings going on. De Palma's reliance on a trendy video as Isabelle's springboard to success makes the material too trivial and media-based. De Palma's actors just seem to be posing in the big corporate spaces; Corneau's inhabit them naturally.

It might have been better to play up Rapace's mousiness. It might have made her seem so inadequate that her feelings would be warped and she would be overcome by jealousy, humiliation, and resentment as soon as she realized Christine was manipulating her. In Corneau's version, with Ludivine Sagnier in the role, Isabelle is a slow burn, resisting anger as long as she can because of the power she's had a taste of. It's not clear what's happening to Rapace's character.

After the crime, nothing makes sense in either movie. While Corneau's Love Crime was an entertaining psychological study, it fell apart as a police procedural. De Palma's Passion doen't work in either genre. The images by Jose Luis Alcaine are such gorgeous eye candy that they may stop registering as anything but artwork after a while. Likewise Pino Donaggio's lush score, which underlines the suspenseful bits in a Bernard Hermann mode, makes the movie even more Hitchcockian and even more artificial.

Passion debuted at Venice, with showings at Toronto and the New York Film Festival swiftly following in September 2012. Screened for this review as part of the NYFF at Lincoln Center, at which time time it had not yet acquired a US distributor. French, German and Dutch releases (the film is set in Berlin in place of Corneau's La Défence, Paris location) are scheduled for February 2012.

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