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The loose story to this one centres on a power struggle between an advertising executive and her assistant. It begins with the boss taking credit for her aide’s popular advertising idea and events escalate from there until things become deadly.
There is no doubt that the story-line in this film lacks a bit of direction, with the mystery/thriller plot thread coming out of nowhere in a film which had been a sort of melodrama up to that point. But to be honest I am quite forgiving of this because as far as I am concerned this is a Brian De Palma movie that unashamedly sources his thrillers of old and, as such, is a wilfully artificial story propped up with lots of cinematic style. I always enjoy De Palma in full-on style-over-substance mode and, even better, he is that rare director who actively admits that that is his prime objective. I think we get a little too much ’substance’ and not enough style in our modern movies, so I for one am always up for a bit of De Palma action. In this one there is beautiful cinematography from the start with the piece de resistance being an extended split-screen sequence where we see events unfold at a ballet performance while sinister events play out at the home of one of the lead characters. And the ending sequence truly is tradep, erotic, violent and completely over-the-top. It’s all great fun basically. The two lead actresses Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace are commendably game throughout and ultimately, I found this stylized, hyper-real thriller rather a lot of fun to be perfectly honest.
Brian DePalma’s “Passion” opens on the vulgar lid of an Apple computer. We then pulls back to reveal the equally vulgar Christine (Rachel McAdams) and Isabelle (Noomi Rapace). Christine, made up to resemble Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s “Marnie”, is an advertising executive. Isabelle’s her assistant. In traditional DePalma fashion, both work with and sell images. They’re seated in an antiseptic living room – corporate minimalism meets IKEA chic – every corner white, bland and soulless. The film’s title, “Passion”, then appears before dispassionate furniture, behind which are paintings, each with nymphets fawning over a third character. After complimenting each other on their “excellent taste”, Christine and Isabelle spit out “organic wine” in disgust. To these two, nothing tastes better than plastic.
Corneau’s plot hinged on a simple mother/daughter, old/young, dominant/submissive relationship
Enter Dirk (Paul Anderson), Christine’s lover. Later it becomes apparent that Christine has sexual relationships with an army of men, all submissive, some wearing dog collars and masks. “I’m tired of being admired,” she admits, “now I need love!” The act of watching and admiring is itself the basis of an advertisement Christine and Isabelle are working on. With customary DePalma self-reflexivity, this advertisement involves a camera eye watching as spectators watch and admire it. Equally salacious is the name of Christine’s company: Koch Image. Kinky.
Several “love” triangles develop. Christine wants Isabelle, her assistant, as does Dani (Karoline Herfurth), Isabelle’s assistant. Bouncing between them is Dirk, everyone’s plaything. These jealousies lead to a game of escalating savagery which, new for DePalma, unfolds amidst an environment of glittering fetish objects, the totems of a material and ego-driven culture. The film itself is based on Alain Corneau’s “Love Crime”, but DePalma’s changed Corneau’s central relationship.
DePalma, however, paints Isabelle and Christine as equals, sisters, doubles, lovers, both the same age and both equally competent, intellectually and professionally
This being DePalma, “Passion” is obsessed with eyes, cameras and voyeurs. Isabelle and Christine battle over ownership of a camera-phone advertisement, it’s a sex tape recorded with a camera-phone which leads to Isabelle’s plot to kill Christine and it’s a camera-phone which will later incriminate her. Each act, then, hinges on the ownership of a camera, and the power that comes from being either watcher or the watched .