Alain Corneau's Love Crime, on which Passion is based, wasn't a great film. It was mediocre to above-average vampy, female-driven, Euro trash cinema about the nature of feminine impulse in the male world of corporate success. Making festival runs and going straight to DVD in most territories just two years ago, it was a peculiar candidate for an American remake, especially by the coyly referential master of unofficial remakes, Brian De Palma.
But after his interpretation of the text establishes the passive-aggressive bond between the cutthroat Christine (Rachel McAdams) and her eager and reluctantly flirtatious lackey, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), De Palma's interest in the material becomes clear. Having a career often earmarked by a preoccupation with film noir, in particular the femme fatale, this gender play on female behaviour in the corporate male environment of marketing and advertising is riddled with fatale archetypes and noir plot developments, which ultimately work as a template for De Palma to satirize and reference his entire career.
Once we establish that Christine is a ruthless bitch, taking credit for Isabelle's ass-camera cellphone campaign and making her husband wear a mask of her face while performing cunnilingus, the early twist that Isabelle is banging Christine's husband sets the tone for mind games and backstabbing aplenty. Initially, the pair plays nice, with Isabelle waxing meek to Christine's bizarre ego trips, but once the backstabbing is both ways, the melodramatic score and aesthetic go full-tilt insane, featuring endless candid angles and noir lighting up until a split-screen takes over during the climactic third act.
Amusingly, Christine tells a story about a dead twin sister, which references De Palma's Sisters and later plays a trick on Isabelle that clearly reflects on the callous treatment of Carrie. An actual shot reconstruction from Raising Cane pops up in the final moments and the Body Double mask is omnipresent. This just scratches the surface of the inside joke observations peppered throughout this increasingly ridiculous melodrama, making the actual storyline between Isabelle, Christine and an even lower hanging fruit, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), secondary to the intense stylization and comedy of self-criticism that Passion really is.
Still, McAdams clearly has a blast playing a calculating bitch and the inevitable hyper-stylized and meticulously edited climax sequence, which De Palma is known for, is as riveting in exaggerated comic form as it is in sincere thriller form.
It's just unfortunate that those unfamiliar with the director's work will have absolutely no context for the abstract and oblique tonal shifts or the references, leaving them to dismiss the film as terrible. (SBS)