NYFF: De Palma’s ‘Passion’ Misfires with Bad Camp and Silly Twists and Turns

Good camp films know what they are doing. They manipulate the audience into feeling exaggerated sorts of emotion and possess a sort of bravura that makes them unabashedly watchable. Based on Alain Corneau’s 2010 film Love Crime, Brian De Palma’s new offering, Passion, is definitely campy, but oftentimes it borders on just plain stupid. It is aimlessly over-the-top with eye-rolling twists and turns – for nearly the last quarter of the film, De Palma wastes the audience’s time with fake out after fake out (just kidding, guys – she was dreaming… TIMES FIVE!). The director lacks the artfulness in filmmaking that he once possessed in classics like Dressed to Kill.

Christine (Rachel McAdams, scenery-chewing rather excellently) is a young, high-powered ad executive working in Berlin. She wants to work in New York City again but needs the right account to bring her enough success to propel that next move. Her answer, or so she thinks, comes in the form of Isabelle James (Noomi Rapace) – a “genius” creator of ad campaigns who she calls upon to come up with a marketing concept for a new smartphone.

In the middle of the night, Isabelle suddenly comes up with an idea and makes her devoted assistant Dani (German actress Karoline Herfurth) the star of a mockup commercial. Isabelle’s idea is a success in the pitch, and Christine showers her with praise and sapphic flirtation, sending her to London to see the project through. While Isabelle is away, Christine cements her alpha status, claiming the commercial concept as her own for that prized New York transfer.

Crushed, Isabelle and Dani take the commercial viral – in a matter of minutes it gets “10 million hits,” which is a near-impossible amount of awesome. Isabelle retakes the credit and supplants Christine in going to New York. Or so she thinks…

Obviously, there is more then meets the eye about theses two women. Christine is freaky in the sack — role-playing with a mask of her own face, which may just be a plot device — and may or may not have killed a twin sister that she may or may not have had. Isabelle remains an enigma, keeping people in the dark about her true motivations (her faux addiction to pain killers is especially amusing). The two ladies maintain an operatic battle of the wills until the end of the movie, continuously double-crossing each other, sharing the same lover (British actor Paul Anderson), and espousing their love for one another, sharing a few hypocritical kisses in the process.

De Palma’s leading ladies are very flatly drawn, betraying each other just because it pleases them, and with little motivation. No character has a definitive personality besides being a conniving bitch. Any time a character shows emotion, it’s just another ploy in their game. McAdams does shine brighter than the others because it seems that she is seemingly more conscious of the material she is working with. She manipulates the silly dialogue to its fullest extent. Perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines, it’s hard to buy the very young-looking McAdams as a big time executive, but who cares? She’s fabulous! Rapace, however, falls flat. She doesn’t lap up the silliness and instead drains any fun from the film’s camp elements.

Passion’s mostly generic look makes you yearn for the saturated filmy-ness that was indicative of De Palma’s earlier work. This film could be made by anyone and lacks many of the notable De Palma stylistic traits. Toward the end, he suddenly switches to heavy-handed chiaroscuro lighting, which then also abruptly stops. No symbolism behind this is made evident. This inconsistent cinematography in combination with De Palma regular Pino Donaggio’s bizarrely ‘80s-TV-movie-sounding score makes for quite the odd final product.

Passion is so teetering on the edge of bad that it might end up being screened ironically in a couple of years, as Showgirls is now. Dressed to Kill possesses the good kind of camp — Michael Caine as a homicidal transsexual can’t go without some guffaws from the audience — though the film’s fake outs are cleverly executed and well-placed. Passion, however, is mostly lazy. The dialogue is straight out of a soap opera, the style is inconsistent and the audience isn’t ultimately given all that much credit.

The Upside: Rachel McAdams’s knowingly camp performance and her fierce booty poppin’ business trousers.

The Downside: The many, many stupid “gotcha!” moments. And Noomi Rapace.

On the Side: Apparently, having sex with someone wearing a mask of your own face is a thing (hopefully John Waters knows this).

A fan of Pee-Wee Herman since birth, Caitlin Hughes was always consumed by watching movies and TV, preferring the comforting glow of the movie theater screen or the TV to, let's say, the harsh glare the sun. She graduated Tisch with an MA in Cinema Studies, and since went on to do various stuff in film, ranging from non-profit to PR to film programming. When not watching movies or TV, she enjoys perfecting the art of karaoke, dining out, being a so-so yogi, and trolling around Park Slope. For further musings, follow @C_B_Hughes

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