Over his long career, Brian De Palma’s had successes in a wide variety on genres, experimental, comedy, horror, action, crime, war, he’s even dabbled into Sci-Fi and musicals, but through all of this there’s always been a specific type of film recognisable as ‘a Brian De Palma film’. These are thrillers, often described as ‘Hitchcockian’, featuring murder, seduction, betrayal, twists, voyeurism, among other elements. Passion, De Palma’s first new film in quite some time, very much marks a return to this style, which he’s continually revisited throughout his years of filmmaking, for the first time since 2002’s Femme Fatale, .
Passion is primarily set in the cut-throat world of advertising. In the Berlin offices of a top international firm, Christine (Rachel McAdams) is doing well for herself. Her less confident assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), comes up with a marketing campaign for a client that proves to be highly successful. Unashamedly, Christine uses her position to gain all the credit for the work, and the possibility of a promotion to New York.
Although appearing as the more timid of the pair, Isabelle can’t just stand for this wanton act of selfishness. It ends up sending both women on a quest to gain vengeance, and power over one another privately and publicly, that can only get worse and worse. Climbing up the corporate ladder, it seems, can mean falling down the moral one.
Passion features a good deal of familiar themes for De Palma, people plotting nefarious deeds against one another, power struggle, backstabbing, there are also some discernible references to earlier work of his (one important moment is a virtual recreation of a scene from Raising Cain). It also features the welcome return of several technical hallmarks, his audacious camera work here includes several point of view shots, and of course an excellent central split-screen sequence (which gives quite a shock as it emerges). It also boasts an excellent score from Pino Donaggio, whose collaborations with De Palma date back to Carrie.
While this does bear a ‘written and directed by’ credit for De Palma, it’s quite surprising to learn that this is actually a remake of a French film from 2010 called Love Crime (which I’ve never seen) given that it’s story seems very typical of De Palma’s work. Even more so considering that Passion itself is a European production (German-French) rather than a Hollywood English-language do-over). Maybe De Palma just felt drawn to the material as it was so similar to his own? I can only speculate.
As much as Passion could be considered a throwback for De Palma, it’s bang up to date in many other respects. The film is full of contemporary technology (a pivotal plot point involves a YouTube video going viral for example), and he even manages to take familiar thriller troupes and not just re-hash conventional twists. When someone mentions they have an identical twin, you just know that’s going to feature, but how?
Passion is, for the most part a gripping and suspenseful film full of unexpected twists and turns, some of which work well, and some of which venture a little into preposterous territory. It’s not a spectacular return to form for Brian De Palma, but it’s a clear example of him doing exactly what he knows how to do well.