Film Review: Passion

A rinky-dink, kinky sexploiter unworthy of Brian De Palma, who thoroughly trampled this tired territory decades ago and now returns looking much like a man trying to recapture his youth—and missing it to the point of self-parody.

We at feel a line should be drawn on pseudo-smoldering sex dramas after witnessing, with some bewilderment, writer-director Brian De Palma’s sad attempt to rekindle the glory/gory days of his Sisters, Carrie and Dressed to Kill. Passion, which could use some, is a room-temperature walk through the long-gone land of tension-filled De Palma-sweaters, set (for no apparent reason other than film funding) in the world of Berlin advertising—sort of a “Mad Men” for ladies only.

The catfight in the center ring is between two ad-agency executives—a crackerjack brainstormer (the original, Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace) and the manipulative boss who blithely takes credit for these bright ideas of her subordinate (the rebooted Sherlock Holmes’ main-squeeze, Rachel McAdams). From the get-go, McAdams’ Christine seems to be lustfully snorting fire in the direction of the indifferent and apathetic Isabelle (Rapace), and in time their meetings dissolve into a steamy smokescreen of Sapphic activity. It’s almost as if the movie started without us, which, in a sense, it has—this being a remake of Crime d’amour (Love Crime), the 2010 French thriller by Alain Corneau, who died two days after it opened to shrugs.

Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier were no more successful then at breathing credibility into the plot than De Palma’s tag-team. The latter does narrow the age gap (presumably to bring up the heat in the sex scenes) and pole-vaults over the implausibilities of the original story onto safer, if still-shaky, De Palma turf where he can play around with characters’ sexual identities and quote Hitchcock.

The clueless Isabelle catches on, gives in to get ahead and continues the power play by seducing Christine’s boy-toy who’s no great catch and an embezzler to boot (Paul Anderson, a thin reed drudged up at the last moment to replace Dominic Cooper). Via Skype and cellphone photography, Christine throws the affair back in her face. Last to enter this ladies’ day love-in is Isabelle’s sympathetic (very!) secretary Dani (Karoline Herfurth). With that kind of backstory, can murder possibly be far behind?

Of course, by this time, the audience couldn’t care less which stick figure gets bumped off—just get on with it. And it’s here that De Palma sees fit to flex some old cinematic muscles, dragging out the ever-popular split-screen so the prelude to the murder can be shared with a ballet performance of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun.

Passion was entered, with blind optimism, in competition at the 2012 Venice and Toronto Film Festivals and cooled its platform heels on the shelf a full year before venturing again into public view. The next question: Which way to DVD?