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STUDIO Entertainment One
RUNNING TIME 102 Minutes
• Cast and Director Interviews
Business turns cut-throat! LITERALLY!
Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Brian DePalma
Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) and Christine (Rachel McAdams) work together at a big ad firm in Germany. Will their competitive, erotically charged workplace interactions turn into something much more dangerous?
When a film opens on a tight shot of the Apple logo, then zooms out to reveal a strategically placed bottle of Stolichnaya, and then immediately cuts to a Panasonic commercial, your brain immediately starts to spin several theories on how the rest of the film will play out:
1. Oh look, Brian De Palma has given us a 102 minute commercial. Great.
2. Maybe they’re just getting the product placement out of the way early.
3. Perhaps this bold opening foreshadows of a scathing critique of corporate branding! Exciting!
Not a single one of these theories was correct, which I suppose works in the film’s favor, but the troubling truth about Passion is that despite all its effort to titillate, the film is a bore. All the more troubling is that you get the sense that the film is desperately trying to draw you in, to connect, to make you feel attracted, aroused. It wants so badly for you to get wrapped up in these characters and their daily goings-on, but every time I thought it could finally get interesting, I found myself distanced by strange performances, stranger dialogue, and some of the unsexiest intimacy I’ve seen on screen since Thomas Haden Church showed his ass in Sideways.
I don’t dislike Rapace or McAdams, but neither of them are very good in the film. I think Rapace’s performance fares slightly better, despite the demure Isabelle being the less interesting character. McAdams’ kinky, cunning Christine is more interesting by default, since she’s given a sliver of backstory and a collection of sex toys. What makes them feel so alien is that every line coming out of the mouths of these women sounds too rehearsed, too unnatural. I don’t believe a single word of it.
A sizable portion of the film’s dialogue is silly, meaningless business talk, like when Isabelle’s boss says that her (awful, cringeworthy) viral commercial idea got “ten million views in five hours”. It means nothing. It’s ludicrous. It reminds me of that scene in Birdemic when Businessman #2 proudly announces that his company’s been bought “for a billion dollars!”. When we’re let into Passion’s sales meetings and office discussions, these characters might as well be strutting around like chickens, clucking, “Business business business. A business day to you! Meeting? Meeting! E-mail! Business business.” Occasionally, one of them lets out a squawk of “betrayal!” and we cut to a reaction shot, accompanied buy an inappropriately grand (and therefore hilarious) stab of music.
All this silliness crescendoes to a magnificent scene when Isabelle stumbles into a parking garage, backs her car into a concrete pillar, puts the car in drive, and floors it right into a conveniently placed Coca-Cola machine. There’s a great flash of sparks and a puff of smoke so dense I thought a magician would appear. The overhead fire sprinklers come on, and Pino Donaggio’s score swells into a full-on operatic lament; a lament for a fallen Coke machine, as a torrent of sprinkler tears rain down upon poor, broken, hysterical Isabelle.
Amidst the wreckage, however, at least we get to see De Palma’s beautiful camera work. As always his shots are framed immaculately, and his use of split diopter and split screen create that signature De Palma feel. There’s a point in the film when there’s a significant visual shift, and the whole thing is shot like a cyanotype noir. The color palette swings into deep, lurid blues, nearly every shot is a dutch angle, and the walls of nearly every room are dramatically lit up by the horizontal stripes of unseen venetian blinds. It’s all very Asphalt Jungle, and it’s fun to see De Palma boldly playing around with alternate visual tropes. There are also a few moments that genuinely work, like when Christine is getting plowed by her boyfriend, and elsewhere, Isabelle lays in bed with her laptop on her lap, diddling the trackpad in a masturbatory fashion. It’s a funny and clever bit of imagery; one of the few provocative images that Passion manages to squeeze out.
It also bears mentioning that Passion is a remake of Alain Corneau’s Crime D’Amour, which starred Kristin Scott Thomas. I haven’t seen Corneau’s original, but I understand that Passion follows its plot fairly closely, except for the ending. While I do feel a responsibility to see Crime D’Amour in order to fully understand the context in which Passion exists, the bottom line is that Passion doesn’t stand on its own. It makes some daring visual choices, as one might expect from a De Palma film, but as an erotic thriller, I found it unsexy. As a revenge story, I found it uninspiring. As a “descent into madness” film, it fares a bit better, but with all its awkward dialogue and strange performances, it never coalesces into anything worth watching.
Shot on intensely grainy 35mm stock, Passion’s visual flair is presented vividly in this Blu-Ray transfer. It doesn’t have the ultra-sharp edges of a digitally shot film, but it has great texture and depth of color. One odd thing, though: many closeups of Noomi Rapace’s face seem blurred, as if a digital effect had been applied to make her skin texture appear smoother. Here’s a screenshot of this effect:
It’s especially apparent around her cheeks, nose, and mouth. It definitely isn’t make-up, and it definitely isn’t a camera focus issue. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes extreme, and sometimes it’s not there at all. I found it distracting, but it’s a relatively small thing in a really pretty transfer. The disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds almost as good as the transfer looks, so in its presentation, this disc delivers. The interview featurette is standard stuff, and doesn’t offer any true information on how the film was put together. Unless you’re a De Palma über-fan, skip this one.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars