Brian De Palma’s Passion (2013) revolves around the bitter enmity that ensues between a devious boss of an advertising agency and her brilliant apprentice when a psychological conflict emerges over stealing credit for a campaign idea, escalating to black mailing, workplace embarrassment and murder. Passion is a highly artistic suspense/mystery, and another addition to Brian De Palma’s repertoire of hypnotic thrillers filled with crafty filmmaking techniques. Before anyone criticizes the outlandish situations presented in this film, they should take a step back and recognize the value of the filmmaking and grasp the decades of wisdom and intelligence ever-present throughout this entire picture.
This film is impeccably designed. De Palma mixes elegant costume design with modishness production design in conjunction with enthralling imagery that results in an absorbing picture. The ending of Passion echoes Dressed to Kill (1980), an earlier De Palma murder mystery that ended with Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) permanently haunting Liz Blake’s (Nancy Allen) mind with nightmares. The ending of Passion is left open for interpretation, in signature Brian De Palma style, and though at times the film’s plot feels drawn out and hollow, it’s impossible to resist De Palma’s masterful craftsmanship and artistry; a never ending appreciation for the tremendous care and attention brought to every single frame of the film’s aesthetics.
Fashion, technology, deception, infidelity, jealousy and ultimately, murder. The diegesis of Passion explores the world of European fashion and design and how it’s involved with the technology of Apple Macbooks, webcams, the implementation of smart phone cameras and eccentric characters like Christine (Rachel McAdams), a ruthless and manipulative boss who sends her protegee Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) to London with her boyfriend Dirk (Paul Anderson) to pitch a video promotion campaign for a jeans advertisement using a silly, but clever “Ass Cam” – a smart phone snugly placed in the back pocket of a model’s jeans as she struts around the city streets being gawked at by strangers. After impressing the executives, Isabelle and Dirk sleep with each other and Dirk records the encounter on his phone for his own pleasure, which later results sexploitation. And when Isabelle returns back to work, she finds that Christine has been offered to travel to New York, getting all the credit for the campaign, which results in manipulative mind games, sex games and death traps.
Every single shot of this film implements an idea in camera work and lighting. Whether it’s a split-screen, De Palma’s signature split diopter on the camera lens, or the reflection of a character on a computer monitor, De Palma’s camera is always communicating the emotions of the story through its movements. Once the story escalates to a stage of chaos, jealousy and severe hatred, De Palma tilts the camera to its side, suggesting discomfort and disorder. De Palma makes creative use of light protruding through window blinds of cars and office buildings, in addition to juxtaposing Christine’s red dress on the black leather seats of a BMW as she smokes a cigarette, both in stylish film noir depictions.
De Palma is a master at crafting detailed shots with elaborate camera work, setting the standard for what it means, to direct a film, in terms of shooting a scene. His devotion to every single frame and transition is mesmerizing. Aesthetically, Passion is a spellbinding film in terms of techniques employed, and it’s clearly apparent that De Palma is signing his autograph throughout the entire picture with signature trademark styles echoing his earlier masterpieces from the ‘80s. After all, we’re talking about a director who has been making films for over 5 decades. Taking into account that Passion is Brian De Palma’s 29th feature film, the tender details of his filmmaking techniques should be appreciated, considering De Palma is a virtuoso; an ace.
But on the downside, Passion has the inevitable shortcomings and drawbacks of any given film. The beats of the story are off kilter, causing a mismatch with the suspense introduced throughout the plot. Even if the story feels flat or dull, it often appears as though De Palma delightfully directs the film with intentional manipulation just like his characters, in a sort of taunt toward the audience, goading them to keep their eyes fixated on the screen. Certain situations in the movie come off as immature and juvenile, causing a mismatch with the highly esteemed classical filmmaking. But the silliness presented is wholly authentic, since the subject matter involves women in the workplace; ridiculously asinine things always occur in any given professional environment. The trivial situations De Palma conveys are accurate in relation to the everyday jealousy traps between co-workers and bosses taking credit for the hard work of their employees. One thing that Passion doesn’t do is lie; it’s telling the truth, no matter how silly.
Christine’s power and witchlike tendencies cause panic and distress for Isabelle, but it’s when Isabelle turns the tables and takes credit for her own work, that Christine’s boss dismisses the promotion, sending Isabelle to New York instead. Envious games of exploitation and humiliation escalate toward murder and controversy. Ultimately, none of these characters in the film are likable enough for us to be intrigued to care about the outcome in the ending. Movies should overwhelm audiences in one way or another, thus separating themselves from what is perceived from television content. Passion does this with De Palma’s mastery in writing and directing, within a film he’s obviously passionate about, directing it with intricate details in every shot.
There’s an interesting debate going on right now about how film directing is a young man’s game; how directors make their finest work aged in their thirties, forties and fifties. Quentin Tarantino, an admirer of De Palma’s, who has publicly listed both Carrie (1976) and Blow Out (1981) on his favorite films of all-time list, has indirectly alluded in the past to how he personally prefers to cease from directing movies around the age of sixty, with his supposed 10th and final film. Martin Scorsese might be an exception, when he debunked this belief with The Departed (2006), directing the Best Picture Oscar winner at age 64, while also winning Best Director. “I guess I do feel that directing is a young man’s game. I do feel that cinema is changing, and I’m a little bit part of the old guard.” Quentin Tarantino said, in an interview with Rolling Stones. It’s possible that Tarantino and director’s alike, who believe in this notion, are suggesting that directors ranging from 60+ are concerned with geriatric tales, but not Brian De Palma. Passion was released in 2013, which would have put the maestro aged in his early 70s, making a provocative film about young women working in fashion perfectly in line with the hypnotic films of De Palma’s filmmaking prime. Passion is chic, modish and contemporary with its fashion and use of technology. It’s sexy and appreciative of female psychology and physiology and worthy of respect and recognition.
Grade: B- | 80% | 3 Stars