Passion Is No Ordinary Word: De Palma's Latest Opens Tonight at Belcourt

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From this week's Scene:

Passion is a Brian De Palma movie for a world chilled by narcissism and held rapt by its own reflection. The director has devoted his career to the warping impact of surveillance culture, where everyone is a watcher or passive voyeur — in front of the big screen, the TV, the computer monitor — and conversely, everyone is watched. Long before the laptop, the iPhone and Skype, there was De Palma Nation, a place where everybody was either on camera or behind one. Because of the bulky, prohibitively expensive equipment, the latter group was limited — either to professionals, like John Travolta's sound engineer in Blow Out, or obsessives, like Keith Gordon's gadget-prone amateur sleuth in Dressed to Kill.

But technology has surpassed the spycam society forecast in early De Palma classics like Hi, Mom! and Sisters. Anyone with a cellphone can be both star and director of his own YouTube-documented life, which sounds like nothing so much as the setup for one of De Palma's loopy, sinuous erotic thrillers. In fact, it's a pretty apt description of Passion, a wickedly funny exercise in the audience misdirection and technocratic hoodwinkery that's been this filmmaker's stock in trade for nearly five decades. Its corporate milieu is an orchard of gleaming little trademark Apples, most of them concealing worms.

De Palma borrows the hothouse plot of Alain Corneau's 2010 French thriller Love Crime — its co-writer, Natalie Carter, gets a dialogue credit here — but gives it a cold-to-the-touch sheen and a clammy metallic palette that's at ironic odds with the title. (It was shot on 35mm but transferred to digital, which mutes the steamy lushness that marks De Palma's thrillers.) When color bleeds through this sterile environment, it's typically the siren-red lipstick worn by Christine (Rachel McAdams), a coolly kinky executive at a Berlin advertising agency where the glass planes and slashing angles suggest the Apple Store of Dr. Caligari.

So self-obsessed she likes her lovers to wear a doll-mask facsimile of her own features, Christine is grooming an avid protégé, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), who covets her boss's power and modernist digs down to the upholstery on her sofa. De Palma poses them in the frame like mirror images, and Christine can't help but try shaping her underling into a human selfie. "You need some color," she coos to Isabelle, applying her lipstick as well as her lips.

But Isabelle isn't such an eager apprentice once Christine hogs the credit for her viral smartphone ad campaign — a spot that only looks like an updating of the reality-TV "Peeping Toms" gag that opens De Palma's 1973 Sisters, but is in fact a replica of an actual guerrilla YouTube ad. The ad mixes the director's favorite ingredients, sex and spying — and so does the mad soap-opera-on-steroids revenge fantasy that follows, as Isabelle sleeps with Christine's shady colleague-lover (Paul Anderson) and her boss rigs a nasty public payback. ...

Read the rest of the review here. Passion opens tonight at The Belcourt. And many thanks to Geoff at De Palma a la Mod for the shout-out.

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