Passion: movie review
They’re as sleekly attractive as the steel-sheen MacBook they crouch behind in the seductive opening shot of Brian De Palma’s delirious erotic thriller. But are our sympathies aligned with blond ice queen Christine (Rachel McAdams) or with her seemingly bashful brunet protégé, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace)? Why choose? Turns out both of these Berlin-based global-ad-agency execs are irresistibly cutthroat, casting flirtatious glances back and forth even as they prepare to steal each other’s ideas and stab each other in the back. (One of them even has a shrewdly scheming redheaded assistant, played by Karoline Herfurth, to complete the unholy hair-color trinity.) This is truly De Palma–ville, and the filmmaker’s remake of Alain Corneau’s tale of corporate bloodletting, Love Crime (2010), is a welcome return to the carnal shockers that he does so well.
The mood isn’t one of white-knuckle suspense so much as white-noise allure: Every element seems a little too perfectly placed, to the point that we’re always waiting, mesmerized and on edge, for the other shoe to drop. Murder is, of course, on the horizon, captured in a typically bravura split-screen sequence juxtaposing a masked stalker’s throat-slitting adventures with a performance of the Jerome Robbins–choreographed ballet Afternoon of a Faun. The film also seamlessly shifts between the antiheroines’ perspectives—throwing our allegiances off-balance, even moving in and out of the world of drug-addled dreams until we don’t have a leg to stand on. (A scene in which a high-heel model, shot enticingly from the waist down, takes an ankle-busting tumble is this mischievous movie in miniature.)
Is there more to the enterprise than flawless technique? The faithful will say yes and point to Passion’s cutting satirical undercurrent about our virtually connected culture. The skeptics will cry foul and deride De Palma’s unapologetic embrace of Skinemax-grade titillation and dialogue. (“Do you think I don’t see what’s going on in that dyke brain of yours?”) The style-versus-substance debates that have plagued the director since he dared filter Hitchcockian perversity through his cockeyed aesthetic prism will rage on. Yet those who submit to the movie’s spell may well find themselves giddy at how viscerally and confidently an old master can deploy the tools of his trade.