“Passion” is the latest kinky thriller from Brian De Palma, the first-class master of trashy guilty pleasure. He is back in his sensational territory again with his usual bag of tricks, and the result is as much as what we can expect from the director who dazzled us with styles and techniques in his wild erotic thrillers such as “Dressed to Kill”(1980) and “Body Double”(1984). Although its story gets more implausible as it approaches to the finale, the movie is made by the director having a fun amid many illogical aspects of the story, and you cannot help but be tickled by this entertaining process especially if you are familiar with his previous works.
The movie is the remake of French thriller film “Love Crime”(2010), and the synopsis of its first half is almost identical to that of the original version except several notable changes in the story background. Isabelle(Noomi Rapace), a quiet young woman working in some big advertisement company in Berlin, has been an assistant to Christine(Rachel McAdams), who has been a major source of frustration at Isabelle’s work and life for many reasons despite their rather smooth professional relationship. It is apparent that Christine has exploited her talent for years, but, despite her own assistant’s caring advice, Isabelle is hesitant about stepping forward even though she knows well that her career is going nowhere under Christine.
Besides that, Christine is good at controlling Isabelle’s feelings as much as she is deft at manipulating the others around her including Dirk(Paul Anderson), one of the executives in the company who is also Christine’s current bedfellow. Christine becomes a little more personal with Isabelle during their private conversation, and, in contrast to the cool, detached attitude of the original version, the movie gleefully focuses on the sexual aspect of the interactions between them. In fact, it shows us more about Christine’s perverted side behind her icy, impeccable appearance, so we are treated with a brief scene where Christine is having a kinky sex with her masked partner while being blindfolded on her bed.
When Isabelle finally does something for herself after finding that her brilliant idea about one advertisement can be ruined, she gets the compliments she deserves for her bold move and a huge success resulted from it, but she also receives the cold ire from Christine because it becomes quite possible that Isabelle will be promoted to the position in US instead of her boss. Christine switches to the full queen bee mode for hurting Isabelle by any means necessary, and Rachel McAdams, who has never been so mean like this since her memorably vicious high school character in “Mean Girls”(2004), is utterly nefarious as a cruel and cunning woman who knows a lot about how to whip her underlings and enjoys every minute of it.
On the opposite, Noomi Rapace gives an equally solid performance as Isabelle being dominated and humiliated by her horrible boss during the first half of the story and then thrown into a more difficult situation during the second half. If you have watched the original version, you surely know what will eventually happen around the middle of the story, but De Palma’s screenplay adapted from Alain Corneau and Natalie Carter begins to toy with the original plot around that point. You can be never be sure about what will happen in the end, and the mood becomes nightmarish while the characters and their bright places are engulfed by the shady atmosphere as if someone suddenly ordered that the blinds should be pulled down on every window in the movie.
And then the movie plunges itself into the array of the visual moments reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s well-known thriller films. While a certain method of shock and surprise from “Raising Caine”(1992) is frequently used, we also get a suspenseful split-screen sequence accompanied with a classic ballet performance in the theater, and this naturally takes us back to the memories of “Sisters”(1973) and “Dressed to Kill”.
With his crew including the cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, a frequent collaborator of Pedro Almodóvar, and the composer Pino Donaggio, who composed a bunch of impressive scores for De Palma’s works during the 1970-80s(their last collaboration was “Raising Caine”, by the way), Brian DePalma continues to hold our attention with terrific cinematic moments even when many things do not make sense a lot in the story. Unlike the original version, the movie does not wrap its story with a neat ending, but it instead makes a stylish exit with bravado as shown in its overblown finale which is involved with several things including a certain cellular phone, a dizzy staircase, a bloody scarf, and some mysterious blonde female character.
While watching all of these elements in the movie, I found myself being nostalgic about my adolescent experience with De Palma’s works mentioned above. Not long after being exposed to Alfred Hitchcock’s films, I encountered “Carrie”(1976) and “Dressed to Kill” in 1996, and then I quickly became fascinated with De Palma’s many other works. Sometimes it looked like he virtually made the R-rated versions of Hitchcock films, but he created his own lurid voyeuristic area under Hitchcock’s influence as a master filmmaker, and, as shown in his underrated work “Femme Fatale”(2002), he is usually at his peak when his movie is wild, dirty, violent, and playful with sensational/sleazy materials ready to be exposed in front of his camera.
Although it is less satisfying than the original version in case of the story, “Passion” compensates for its flaws with its wild style and good performances. McAdams and Rapace are good if not better than Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, and I liked its extra touch on Isabelle’s assistant played by Karoline Herfurth. The movie proves to us that Brian De Palma is still the same dirty old director who seduced us and then played us like piano in “Femme Fatale”, and, considering his never-ending perversity and obsession clearly reflected in this enjoyable trashy thriller, I sincerely hope he will soon make another guilty pleasure to be enjoyed and appreciated. It may be too dirty and violent for your taste, but, seriously, we need that kind of colorfully distinct fun in these days.