For his first film in six years, Brian De Palma reconfigures Alain Corneau’s final film, Love Crime, bringing the French writer-director’s pulpy tale of corporate backstabbing and murder into alignment with his own obsession with the gaze. Voyeurism, of course, has always been the fundamental building block of De Palma’s cinema. The vicissitudes of the gaze, acts of looking and being looked at, structure all of his most formally innovative works, and Passion is certainly no exception in that regard, even if the film sometimes plays like a greatest-hits compilation.
From an opening shot that spies on boss lady Christine (Rachel McAdams) and assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) huddled over a laptop, giggling like schoolgirls at whatever it is they’re watching, Passion refracts most of its action through various technologies (videophones and security cameras also feature prominently) so that the story unfolds in an endlessly distorting funhouse mirror. This way, De Palma’s camera does double duty as an unreliable narrator. What’s more, the filmmaker’s reliance on this succession of shifting frames provides an obvious link to Redacted, an impassioned screed against acts of indiscriminate brutality committed by soldiers who find themselves mired in the fog of war.
Passion depicts violence of another order. The very word signifies both desire and suffering, and many of the film’s characters will suffer for their desires, just as surely as others desire to taste-test suffering. It isn’t sufficient, for example, that ice queen Christine has her subordinate’s respect and admiration, she wants to be loved as well. Isabelle, simply enough, wants to be Christine, a yearning she first puts into play by fucking Christine’s boy-toy, Dirk (Paul Anderson). But why settle for a conventional triangle when you can toss in adoring secretary, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), whose Isabelle-fixation mirrors and parodies Isabelle’s obsession with Christine? As is his wont, De Palma significantly sexes up the proceedings, layering in a lesbian subplot, and leavening the antic amorousness with a few lashings of sadomasochistic kink.
Where Femme Fatale’s soundtrack riffed on Ravel’s riveting Boléro for its opening jewel heist, De Palma scores Passion’s central murder to Debussy’s dreamy Afternoon of a Faun. As Isabelle sits watching a performance of the ballet, a masked figure slips into Christine’s apartment and slits her throat. De Palma’s use of split screen in this sequence seems less visually pyrotechnical, less reliant on Femme Fatale’s slinky, sensuous tracking shots, yet at the same time more attuned to what Sergei Eisenstein called the principle of intellectual montage: juxtaposing ideas of creation and destruction, beauty and death, and (most pertinent to the film’s thematic) dream and reality.
In a remarkably twisty third act, De Palma’s elusive narrative turns Ouroboros, swallowing its own tail in an increasingly unhinged series of developments involving murderous twins and dreams within dreams. Following the daisy chain of (inter)textual references, all put across with De Palma’s trademark sly humor, becomes the real pleasure to be taken from this sequence. At one point, De Palma reenacts the zinger that famously closes Raising Cain, a moment that was unapologetically cribbed from Dario Argento’s Tenebre in the first place. Essentially a master class in the maestro’s polymorphous (not to mention polyphonic) perversities, Passion is perhaps best glimpsed in a glass darkly: De Palma looking back at De Palma, who’s glancing askance at Argento, all while multiple Hitchcocks waddle with a titter into the center of this particular hall of mirrors.
Entertainment One’s 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray transfer is nearly flawless. Frequent Almodóvar cinematographer José Luis Alcaine contributes considerably to the film’s sheen of sensuously depraved elegance. Muted earth tones and the steely blues of Berlin’s modernist architecture dominate the film’s generally subdued color palette, all the better to allow for sudden bursts of bright red (an eye-catching item of apparel, some freshly applied lipstick, gouts of spattered blood). Colors are rich and densely saturated. Contrast and fine detail are well rendered, and black levels are very solid. The Master Audio surround mix brings out the ambient chatter in some of the busier sequences, lends spatial uncertainty to a significant prop-based scene, and lets Pino Donaggio’s sumptuous score resound across the peripheral channels with amorous abandon.
Aside from the theatrical trailer, there’s only a perfunctory EPK featurette with abbreviated comments from Brian De Palma, Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, and Karoline Herfurth.
Dumped unceremoniously into a handful of theaters earlier this year, Brian De Palma’s sexy and savage Passion gets a spectacular Blu-ray transfer (and precious little else in the way of supplements) from Entertainment One.