A confidence woman swindles $10-million worth of diamonds from her heist team. Miraculously, the universe offers her the opportunity for a new identity, and a fresh start by getting wedded to an American diplomat. Laure Ashe (Rebecca Romijn) has gambled immensely and collected vast gains. When paparazzi Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) is hired to capture her photograph, nemeses from Laure’s hush-hush bygone days become aware of her whereabouts in Paris. And they demand their cut of the profits from the diamond heist. Writer/Director Brian De Palma, displayed yet again the reason why he’s considered the master of the erotic thriller. Femme Fatale (2002) is a tense film with a mind-boggling ending that’s both a transfixing triumph and a tortuous exhibit from a filmmaking maven.
Like Brian De Palma’s 1980 erotic thriller, Rebecca Romijn is Dressed to Kill. She portrays the character of Laure, an erotic, self-confessed seductress who will eventually bring tragedy to a man’s life once he becomes entangled with her. “Femme Fatale” is French for “Fatal Woman”; a sexy female who uses her enchanting delights as a facade toward the hidden agenda of playing men against each other for monetary gains. Laure enmeshes the paparazzi, Nicolas, in her tangle of survival and deceit. Having revisited the film for the second time since its release in 2002, Femme Fatale remains a tantalizing combination of panache and spectacle, enticing and alluring its audience with stimulating temptations.
Brian De Palma always commences his films with an idea. This film is filled with virtuoso craftsmanship with the implementation of the split diopter, tilts, zooms, overhead shots, long-takes and an impressive use of the split-screen. In Femme Fatale, he pulls back from a close-up on the reflection of Laure, lying topless across the TV screen, while watching Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) – a film noir about a sexually enticing wife who convinces a salesman to engage in a fraudulent scheme. The plot of Femme Fatale reveals itself with a host implausibilities; situations akin to fantasy and coincidences that are too good to be true. However, it’s the film’s brilliant ending where we realize we were in the hands of a master storyteller; Brian De Palma reveals the ‘dream to reality’ and ‘dream within a dream’ concept, making every plot nuisance that occurred throughout the story, now entirely believable.
At the Cannes Film Festival, we meet the key players of the diamond heist. De Palma immediately gives us a taste of his hypnotic, erotic flair as Laure makes out with Veronica (Rie Rasmussen) in the bathroom. The way De Palma photographs women is fascinating. He loves the bodily movement of a female, and he photographs Rebecca Romijn like he did Melanie Griffith (Antonio Banderas’ then-wife) in Body Double (1984). In the bathroom, there is a bait and switch. But a “code red” call from Laure’s heist team disrupts the mission, and we find Laure conducting a double-cross. Desperate to escape France, Laure is caught inside of a hotel room with her heist co-player turned enemy, Racine (Edouard Montoute) drops her out of the corridor, where Laure lands miraculously on foamed carpet rolls. Laure enters Lily’s world after being saved by Lily’s parents who mistakenly confuse Laure’s identity with their missing daughter. And when Laure comes across Lily, barging into the front door as a damsel in despair, Laure steals her identity and flies to the US, becoming the wife of an Ambassador. Seven years later, she travels back to France with her husband and becomes a part of Nicolas Bardo’s assignment. But Bardo has hidden pursuits. He visits Laure with a genuine concern for her safety while begging her to stay with him, but little does he know that Laure is setting him up too.
All of the coincidences, confusions and grim heartbreaks throughout the plot come full-circle with a mind-bending ending that makes complete sense. Femme Fatale is a film noir story with a dream aspect; a fantasy element of dreams paving alternate future timelines. Initially, Laure becomes Lily – a sad girl who has lost her husband and child. On the plane to the US with the American Ambassador, she plays a naïve version of Lilly. Then when she comes back to Paris, seven years later, as the ambassador’s wife, she’s got this slick look of fashion, wearing designer clothing. She remains this way, portraying the role of the abused wife; a sophisticated woman tempting Nicolas Bardo into her deceitful entanglement, then when she is thrown off the bridge to her death, she reemerges in the bathtub, waking up from her nightmare, bringing the story full-circle.
“Wake up, before you die.” Black Tie (Eriq Ebouaney) tells her after he throws her off the bridge and into the water. Laure is naked in the water – naked like she is in the bathtub when she wakes up from her visionary dream. She tells Lily her future and doesn’t steal her identity this time. Lily comes to terms with her daughter’s death and gifts a truck driver with a pendant, suggesting for him to hang it from his rear-view mirror. Then De Palma masterfully takes us 7 years later again, showing us an alternate of events; the same truck driver passes through the road and the pendant hanging from his rear-view mirror reflects the sunlight and blinds him for a split second, causing him to kill Laure’s enemies, Black Tie and Racine, and change the course of their future in an alternate timeline. The ending has a sense of déjà vu – a familiarity with a situation appearing to have already occurred in one’s life. In both sequences where we meet Nicolas Bardo “Seven Years Later”, De Palma pans with a split-screen shot and the bus stop has a sign that reads “Déjà vu”, foreshadowing an advanced hint of what is to come later in the story. “Haven’t we met before, somewhere?” Bardo asked. “Only in my dreams.” Laure said. A brilliant ending to a film that’s filled with intricacies designed to be analyzed.