Saturday, May 3, 2014

De Palma's 'Passion' is full of Powder, Rouge and Coca-Cola

Christine and Isabelle laugh together.

Brian De Palma's film Passion definitely left me asking the question, "what could have been?" Interestingly, my first time seeing the film was in June 2013 at 11pm on my Macbook onYouTube. Trust, I was excited because I had been waiting since early 2012 to see Passion since they announced Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace were attached to star. Midway I fell asleep. Yes, I was a bit tired, but the movie is mostly boring with a lot of potential.

Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace play advertising executives Christine and Isabelle in Berlin, Germany who fight over a smart phone commercial, which finds them competing for dominance. It's worth saying that Passion is an English-language remake of Alain Corneau's French thriller Love Crime which starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier as the dueling career women because that film made me mad hitting my spot for revenge. The reason it achieved this is because its structure is procedural, making it a tried and true exercise, while Passion is disjointed, but daring in some ways.

The problem is not that the female leads in Passion are the same age, and not having a 20-year age gap like in Love Crime, but that Rachel McAdams doesn't have someone to pose a threat to her high-powered boss. As the underling, Noomi Rapace is a blank canvas who exudes strength, while the only weapon McAdams's Christine has over Rapace is beauty. Rooney Mara would have been a great Isabelle, being only five years younger than McAdams, so there would be the slight age gap, which would add more tension. Also, Mara has a bitchy streak that would spice up the film's double-crosses, maybe even pushing McAdams to get meaner. McAdams's Christine is a high-ranking business woman in her early 30's with a pretty powder-and-rouge face who tries really hard to look elegant, but professional by wearing double-breasted suits, pants and tasteful knee-length dresses; to see the gradual transformation of Mara from awkward assistant in baggy suits to slinky haute couture would be breathtaking. Rapace rocks the pant suits, but she's not believable as competition for Christine.

Passion starts to get interesting after Christine dashes Isabelle's hopes of overtaking her by taking away Isabelle's man Dirk (who's also Christine's boyfriend played morosely by Paul Anderson), which causes Isabelle to crash her cute Euro car into the Coca-Cola vending machine: this crash summons a wobbly craziness that shakes up the movie's boring first half--which in a way mimics the boring atmosphere of the office place. It's when Isabelle starts popping pills and reality starts dissolving into dreams that you know you're in a Brian De Palma film.

McAdams's performance is one of the main strengths of Passion because she shows sympathy for her villainous character, which is hard to do. She's camps deliciously as if she's licking the last of some wonderful morsel from her lips, and hungry for more. De Palma's invasive close-ups reveal Christine's struggle to remain smiling and to swallow when she steals Isabelle's smart phone idea right in front of Isabelle. In a scene with McAdams in a bath tub talking on a smart phone (not smart!), she's looking on her computer at a photos of a new house in New York, which she plans to move to. Her large eyes are moist with a desperation and relief that she gets to leave Germany. This scene hints at this 33-year old woman's lack of roots: she has no family of her own, estranged from her parents (if you believe the story she tells Isabelle) and she has no appreciation for the concept of kids. All Christine has is professional success.

As the film wraps up, there's a Heathers-like concept of regeneration (cut off one head and another grows back): Isabelle's assistant Dani (the spunky Karoline Herfurth) makes the "best use" of Christine in a pitiful scene with Isabelle. It becomes clear after a dissolve from a close-up of Rapace's sad, calm face into an atmospheric funeral scene that Christine truly comes out on top. She's the ghost of every steely, power-hungry woman that came before; she's Bette Davis, she's Joan Crawford, she's Regina George. Although, I was never scared of her like I was of Kristin Scott Thomas as Christine in Love Crime.

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