Tuesday, September 18, 2012

De Palma's 'Passion' is the Smell of Success

Christine (Rachel McAdams) comes closer to Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) in Passion.

As I started to type this a big thud jolted me to attention. I didn't know what it was, so I got up to investigate and it turned out to be a stack of shoeboxes that had fallen inside my closet. I had just been watching the one-minute trailer for Brian De Palma's Passion a few times and it's full of stomach-jumping surprises just like my real-life one.

Passion is an "erotic thriller" about two successful businesswomen Christine and Isabelle who are attracted to each other's ambition, which of course leads to murder. The TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) released this trailer five months ago, so I'm late on writing about it because Passion has since screened at TIFF. Who cares? This blog couldn't have been more in the moment, and the fall of those shoeboxes was perfect. So when the trailer begins with a graphic of the TIFF logo and footage of onlookers at a festival snapping pictures and recording on their camera phones what they see coming down the red carpet, I instantly expect to see Femme Fatale's Laure Ash as one of the paparazzi snapping pictures. This scene is just like the beginning of Fatale set at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The sound of a door creaks open as blood splatters the screen. Then, what do you know, a door opens.

Everything to do with this movie has been lusty from the moment stills and promotional photos for the film were released last spring. And there's something about this trailer that moves like a heart racing when aroused, then the body stands at attention and slows down after the climax. Just peep the way senior ad exec Christine (Rachel McAdams) steps out of her chauffeured car and walks fast towards the office building. This is followed by the clink of a glass as Christine sits next to her subordinate Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) on the sofa, swaying into Isabelle as if for a kiss. They move towards each other, but then move slightly away from each other. In and Out. Their movement is a tug of war.

The trailer keeps me off balance, but not necessarily jumpy until the end of the trailer. I feel what Isabelle feels in the trailer, even walking through Christine's house. As Dirk (Paul Anderson) says, Christine likes surprises and the payoff of the trailer is an ultimate surprise. We see from presumably Isabelle's point of view, but then we see Christine's. It's someone wearing the mask molded from Christine's face. The way the image jumps out at me that makes my stomach jump every time, no matter how many times, even when played on mute. The scream that sounds like it came from a demon in hell right on the moment of surprise really makes the scare effective.   

When you hear the clink of a glass it could be someone celebrating a job promotion over drinks, or it could be something that scares you or startles you. One of the best images in the trailer is when Christine, dressed in a light blue shirt and pants and a Tippi Hedren bun, makes the sofa cushion rock towards Isabelle. With glass full of liquor in hand, the big diamond ring on Christine's finger stands out and gives the impression that she's married. The truly scary and sexy thing about this scene is the way Christine's nose is upturned and mouth slightly downturned suggesting cruelty. She looks like she's smelling the stench of fear or the stench of ambition. Regardless, both stenches wreak like someone wearing way too much perfume.

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