10 years of ‘Passion’, Brian De Palma’s unknown erotic thriller

10 years of 'Passion', Brian De Palma's unknown erotic thriller

The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century did not sit well with Brian DePalma. The premiere of Mission to Marshis failed foray into science fiction cinema, once again buried the prestige of a filmmaker who had already suffered the honey of failure in the 80s with The price of power and, above all, with The bonfire of the vanities.

But he would start the 90s by returning to his origins with the estimable and vindictive In the name of Cain, to immediately achieve critical and commercial prestige again with the premieres of Trapped by his past in 1993 and Mission Impossible in 1996. A trail of success that would continue relatively Snake Eyes and that it would be buried again by the aforementioned Mission to Mars.

Seeking to raise his battered prestige, he would return to his closest and most comfortable themes, premiering in 2003 the divisive and ignored femme fatalea return in full form to its golden age of erotic thrillers of clear influence Hitchcockian.

But his propensity for set pieces dilated to infinity, the intrusion of the dreamlike and the fantasy within the harshness of noir realism and its taste for provocation would be received with the most absolute indifference of the public and critics. A shame, since we could say that femme fatale It is the summit and perfect purification and synthesis of the filmmaker’s filmography and style.

Still from ‘Femme fatale’

Better luck, a prioriit seemed like he was going to run The black dahlia. The adaptation of one of the most emblematic novels of James Ellroy and a cast of bells starring Aaron Eckhart, Scarlet Johansson, Hilary Swank and Josh Hartnettplus a major production design by Dante Ferrettipredicted a return to more mainstream hits of the past like The Untouchables by Elliot Ness.

But the inconsistency of the proposal and, curiously, the lukewarmness on De Palma’s part to transfer Ellroy’s brutal novel to the big screen (possibly trying to get closer to another successful Ellroy adaptation, the academic LA Confidential), would once again result in enormous artistic and financial failure.

And, as happened with hearts of ironthe director’s new commitment to denouncing the war conflict in Redacted, would pass without pain or glory. A shame, because his harsh look at the second Iraq war, his use of digital for the first time and his fusion of audiovisual elements of different kinds deserved to have had better luck.

Back to the basics

Six years later, in 2012, De Palma would return to his comfort zone with Passion, a return to the trademark erotic dreamlike crime thriller that was based on the adaptation of a French work released two years earlier, Crime d’amourdirected by Alain Corneau.

A work, both the original and De Palma’s, that delved into the rivalry and desire between two advertising agency executives, a fierce fight between two female figures – interpreted in De Palma’s version by Noomi Rapace and one Rachel McAdams converted into a splendid and sarcastic femme fatale -, which ended up leading to a murder, a crime that would serve as a split between Corneau’s original and De Palma’s remake.

Still from 'Crime d'amour'
Still from ‘Crime d’amour’

The director mentioned in the interviews he gave during the promotion of the film that the first half of his work is almost identical to the original. A first part that is related to other contemporary films such as elle of Paul Verhoeven either demonlover of Olivier Assayas in its depiction of the business environment as a violent and inhospitable jungle. Possibly a way to redeem himself from his failed adaptation of the novel by Tom Wolfe, The bonfire of the vanities.

However, in the second half, starting with the crime, the filmmaker preferred to deviate diametrically from Corneau’s version since he considered that it became a typical and topical judicial thriller full of commonplaces.

From satire to giallo

Based on a staging rich in close-ups and uncomfortable symmetry, and supported by his first collaboration with the director of photography Jose Luis AlcaineDe Palma plays around, as he did in femme fatale, with an apparent lightness and superficiality, echo and metaphor of the synthetic and false universe of the world of advertising.

Surreptitiously, the director poisonously introduces his themes and obsessions: the game of double (and triple) complementary and mirror female characters, the fetishistic and perverse component in the erotic games that the protagonists of the film represent and the voyeuristic element based on digital technology. of security cameras and cutting-edge smartphones, a fundamental characteristic in any work worth bearing the De Palma seal.

Still from 'Passion'
Still from ‘Passion’

Later, in the middle of the film, that split we mentioned appears both formally and thematically. The first, based on a classic and meta-referential sequence in split screen that shows us two realities: on the one hand, the representation of ballet The faun’s nap choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky based on the symphonic poem by Debussy and, on the other, the crime scene that will mutate the entire story through a splendid use of the subjective point of view.

Two parallel actions that serve both as a stylistic and stylized resource and as a narrative element to play with the viewer’s expectations by projecting two sequences that, apparently, are occurring in parallel.

Still from 'Passion'
Still from ‘Passion’

Thematically, in that moment, the film, like its protagonists, transforms. From corporate satire and erotic thriller, the work moves closer to the precepts of giallo, close to the atmospheric works of authors such as Sergio Martino either Mario Bavanot only because of the killer’s mask (which we have previously seen in the first half as an element of sexual fetish), but because of the transmutation of the staging and the direction of photography.

From the oppressive symmetries and aseptic color palette of its first half, the director moves on to a chromaticism of contrasting blues and blacks, magnified by the use of Venetian blinds to enhance the spectral transformation of the work. To this, De Palma adds the use of expressionist low angle shots, mutating the locations and scenarios previously represented into infernal versions of them.

A movie dead before being born

Narratively, the film, like femme fataledelves into the dreamlike, giving rise to sequences that are duplicated and cut short, almost converted into cyclical and restless eternal dreams where the protagonist of the story and the viewers themselves begin to doubt what the images show.

Almost as if De Palma, in that final half hour, decided to introduce each and every one of the elements of his previous thrillers, providing in his final minutes a review and enumeration of the stylistic constants that the filmmaker’s followers adore and his detractors despise.

Unfortunately, the film’s distribution decisions meant that Passion will go completely unnoticed at its premiere. In the United States it would be released almost simultaneously on VOD and in theaters and, in Spain, it would not even be in theaters until, a few years later, it would be released in theaters. Movistar+ without much noise.

A shame, because Passion It is a more than estimable work by De Palma although, logically, it will never reach the level of other peaks of his most famous erotic thrillers such as Dressed to kill or double body.

However, after more than five decades behind him as a filmmaker, De Palma once again demonstrated and emphasized his intentions as a film director: style and form above what is narrated and the confirmation that he had come to the seventh art to play. Another thing is that the spectators decided to enter into his game.

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