Saturday, 28 September 2013

Passion (2013, Brian DePalma)

Camp, Histrionic and Overwrought; Brian DePalma's reworking of French thriller Love Crime breaks free of its (purposeful) televisual first half and indulges into a riveting baroque finale, delivering all the infamous hallmarks of its director. Some viewers may get left behind in the film's tongue-in-cheek genre musings, but for those fully on board, Passion is a riveting divulgence into the cinematic fireworks of a time past.

Cutthroat corporate dealings lie at the heart of this thriller that centres two young professional women in a race to come out on top. What begins as cattiness escalates into a downward spiral of murder, espionage and sordid misplaced longings as these seemingly empty vessels do their worst. Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) is somewhat of a blank slate; a mild-mannered and 'passionate' young woman who wants to honourably get out what she puts into her company. Isabelle's superior Christine (Rachel McAdams), on the other hand, isn't as opaque and certainly doesn't fear revealing her cards as the sociopathic bitch boss by taking her proteges's ideas as her own as she ascends the career ladder further.

As the relationship between the two becomes increasingly unprofessional, the film shifts tones to match the imaginable inner turmoil of Isabelle as Christine mounts on the pressure. Whereas the first hour sees a rather formal visual approach to the setup, the latter half's spiteful actions hurls the plot towards extreme subjectivity for which DePalma utilises paranoia inducing angular, jaunty visual devises that evoke classic film noir and its German expressionist precursors. What more do those who enjoy and accept DePalma's work want and/or expect? The pleasure and the real driving force of his cinema is in the construction and technical prowess, not the philosophical strands found, let's say, in the films of Claude Chabrol.

Passion is shamelessly crass and from the get-go a tonal mess, a real throw back to the earlier thrillers of Sisters, Dressed to Kill, and Body Double. But in this mess is most of the joy; how many times in a year does a film pull us from all sides at once and so viscerally infect its genetics with cinematic language? So many films feel on the brink of greatness, falling short in their fear of admitting to madness and thus accepting a safe seat. Like William Friedkin, a director also in his 70s, DePalma shows the vitality of a filmmaker in his 30s. Perhaps only in extreme artistic youth, or in this case, maturity can you go for broke and truly push it over the edge. That is what makes Passion such fun exhilarating fare.

Has Rachel McAdams been better before? Yes. Has Noomi Rapace ever been more impressive? Of course. But that's not the real draw here. A cinematic in-joke it may be, but watching DePalma continue to pastiche vintage form and to an extent even himself on this occasion is exhilarating, textural fun that is seldom found these days. 

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