Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TIFF 2012 REVIEW: PASSION


PASSION
(France/Germany, 2012)
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Paul Anderson, Karoline Herfurth, Rainer Bock
Written by: Brian DePalma and Natalie Carter, based on a screenplay by Alain Corneau
Directed by: Brian DePalma

Well, here we go again: another TIFF, another new Brian DePalma film, another dashed hope that this could be the one to restore him to former glory, back when, despite an indifferent--if not downright hostile, critical base (excepting Pauline Kael)--he was an audacious, and wildly-inventive purveyor of thrillers that have proven as timeless and influential as those of the director he was regularly accused of pillaging: Alfred Hitchcock.

Even DePalma's less-personal stint as a studio-director-for-hire found him highly energized and creative, evidenced by the enduring power of "The Untouchables", "Casualties Of War", "Carlito's Way", and of course, his remake of "Scarface".

His last effort, the shot-on-video Iraq War drama "Redacted", was a raw and confrontational work that suggested a new direction as he approached his sixth decade as a filmmaker.   But here, after a five-year wait, he's back in his familiar milieu, brandishing his usual arsenal of once-clever and visual flourishes, remaking a French film few thought was all that special the first time around.  To hear DePalma talk of reinforcing "his brand" in interviews is a depressing thing indeed--how could such a defiant and independent artist succumb to point form clich├ęs from a marketing Power Point presentation?

I've never see Alain Corneau's 2010 thriller "Love Crime," which starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, but apparently, the overall concept and setup are the same: in the male-dominated world of advertising, two women, seasoned executive Christine (McAdams) and creative neophyte Isabelle (Rapace) engage in a combustible dance, as, after Christine steals one of Isabelle's marketing ideas, vengeance is waged in the boardroom and the bedroom, with Isabelle gaining vengeance, and eventually corporate power, via her affair with her boss's husband  (Anderson).  Double-crosses, humiliations, revenge fantasies, and murders that may-or-may-not-be-real abound, building to a climactic revelation few are likely to find satisfying...

Pauline Kael defended DePalma for possessing "the wickedest baroque sensibility at large in American movies."   There's little evidence of that here, with the film's soft 80's look,  cheap-dream sequences, and hackneyed notion of "kink" confined to garter belts and "Eyes Wide Shut" masks.  Once a master of audience manipulation and so fearless to embrace all the tools of cinema AS cinema, DePalma now doles out split screens and tracking shots as if they were contractually obligation as part of his branding.

"Passion" does mark a welcome reunion with composer Pino Donaggio, whose score, other than McAdams' teeth-and-claws performance, is the liveliest thing in an otherwise shrill and hokey melodrama.

The best part of the film, a homemade jeans promo quickly created by Rapace to dazzle her superiors and win a contract, is not a creation of DePalma's, but tellingly, based on a real viral spot that was licensed for the film.

Otherwise, "Passion" reveals little-of, steeped with the same tossed-off, cynical boredom with the genre DePalma first revealed in 1992's "Raising Cain", requiring that I endure the glowing cell phone screens and increasing snorts of unintentional laughter around me...I will admit that by act three I found myself cursing under my breath, not at my fellow patrons, but at the notion that perhaps, they were right...

©Robert J. Lewis 2012