Originally posted September 12th on Vérité as part of their Double Feature column: http://www.veritefilmmag.com/double-feature-2-love-crime-2012-passion-2013/
In an industry overflowing with repackaged sacred cows, Brian De Palma’s latest film Passion, from Alain Corneau’s final film Love Crime, is that rare remake that doesn’t exist solely to make buckets of cash off brand recognition. An artistic re-imagining where the filmmaker is the brand, Passion makes us wonder why directors insist on reinterpreting acclaimed masterworks, instead of taking a crack at films with the potential for improvement? Looking at the two films comparatively, it comes as no surprise that the cannibalistic De Palma would renovate the brass tacks of Love Crime into a smorgasbord of baroque self-referencing.
In 2010’s Love Crime, Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) is an up-and-coming executive with a borderline obsessive bent. She assists the ruthlessly cold Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), who plays mentor and friend to Isabelle as a means to an end. The two become locked in competitive mind-games and manipulation, and after one humiliation too many, Isabelle sets out to execute an elaborately perfect crime.
Passion largely follows the same pattern, replicating an in-sync scene-for-scene and line-for-line structure in its first half, but immediate differences belie the entirely lifted duplications. Where Love Crime takes place within an agro-industry, Passion spices things up by being set in the materialistic dog-eat-dog advertising world. The first shot features the Apple logo as Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) and Christine (Rachel McAdams) brainstorm for an upcoming deadline. De Palma places his characters within a webbed bubble of all-seeing modern technology, dispelling the notion of privacy. The voyeuristic camera has crossed over into the hands and power of everyone. Skype, iPhones, security cameras, etc. all play a major role, and lend a newly added focus.
Rachel McAdams as Christine is jarring at first, considerably shifting the nature of the central dynamic. Love Crime’s Isabelle looks up to the considerably older Christine as a mentor. Their bond is one of maternal eroticism, Isabelle desperately clinging onto the hopeful approval of a parental figure whose doting ways can turn into abuse in seconds flat. Coworkers briefly mention that Christine’s last assistant resides in a mental hospital. Isabelle is just one in a long line of young disposable fodder for the succubus sitting comfortably at the top of the executive chain.
McAdams’ Christine is secure in her capabilities, but doesn’t comfortably sit at the top of the pack and there is a wavering tenuousness to her position. Isabelle feels like more of an immediate threat. Everybody is replaceable and it cuts both ways. The even playing field turns maternal longing into a quest for possession where eroticism doesn’t feel genuine but is simply another tool at hand.
Noomi Rapace heavily clouds our perception of Isabelle. With Ludivine Sagnier, we understand and readily empathize with Isabelle; she makes a connection with the audience even when we don’t know the reasoning behind her actions. Rapace is unreadable and distant, a trait with which the actor often struggles. It oddly works here though, if only because of the ambiguous direction De Palma takes the story.
Brian De Palma is known as a stylist of outlandish proportions, a painter of Grand Guignol canvases with fluid camera movement. Love Crime is dressed down by Corneau with efficient shots, muted colors, and sparse music. Passion is all florid artificiality, from McAdams’ fashionista wardrobe of pop colors to the expressionistic lighting and increasingly canted angles. He transforms a simple alibi-establishing scene in Love Crime into a trademark split-screen set-piece of ballet intertwined with murder.
In Love Crime, we are immediately and explicitly let in on the fact that Isabelle murdered Christine. The question is never what has happened but how it has happened. We see her painstakingly setting the pieces in place without context. After the murder, we spend the final fifty minutes dissecting how she gets away with it. The piece-by-piece puzzle-building starts intriguingly but loses steam to a host of self-satisfied narrative pay-offs.
De Palma simplifies the incriminating details, pouring energy into subliminal rabbit holes, letting his freak flag fly. Narratively the audience is kept out of the loop, additionally manipulated by playful fake-outs depicting Isabelle’s warped perspective and frayed sanity. The techie focus is tied into the overall fabric, overtly questioning our trust in everything we see in a time when transparency is a weakness. It makes Passion feel effectively pristine and hollow. The focus is not on the ‘how’ but on the ‘what’. What is happening? What has happened? De Palma even throws in a questionable twin sister for good measure. While Kristin Scott Thomas’ absence is felt, the lingering doppelganger makes it feel like McAdams is lurking behind a corner waiting to pounce.
For a film titled Passion, Isabelle and Christine feel robotically stilted and out-of-reach. These women are borne out of the playful masculine mind. The surface of eroticism focuses on material things, and the glossy gives way to the supposedly unknowable minds of women. De Palma fetishizes them, erasing any individuality they held claim to in Love Crime. They become beautiful trussed-up dolls playing at corporate slaughter for the filmmaker’s amusement. Notably, De Palma changes Isabelle’s confidant Daniel into a woman named Dani, becoming the third part of a female trifecta, though he also gives his women more control and independence, making a pawn out of Christine’s boyfriend Phillipe. He is a cause of Isabelle’s emotional turmoil, not the source.
In Corneau’s film, Isabelle’s affair with Phillipe is her true weakness, something Christine capitalizes on with relish. In a revealing conversation with her sister, not present in Passion, it is clear that Isabelle’s vulnerability is centered on her emotional investment in another man. In Passion, Isabelle’s reactions feel more connected to Christine specifically, with Phillipe merely a part of the whole.
Love Crime is single-mindedly serious in tone, with a clinical approach to its second half. What Passion lacks in genuine emotion or characterization is largely made up for with bawdy sensibility in every grandiose gesture. There’s a satirical edge to the portrayal of corporatism, and De Palma’s stamp creates an amorphous tone. It’s a wildly uneven film; slippery to grasp, deliriously hollow yet potent. Love Crime is a satisfying thriller that eventually gets too caught up with the narrative tricks up its sleeve. Corneau wants to make sure you see how everything fits. De Palma wants to gleefully revel in an unaccountable head-space. The constant push-pull in the creative decisions of Passion makes it a far messier film than Love Crime, which in this case makes for a more stimulating experience.