Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Passion (2012): The high risk culture of Advertising

Passion (2012)
dir: Brian DePalma

The title of this movie practically screams sex. There is plenty of sex in Passion. But, it's all so dispassionate, that Passion becomes an ironic title.

DePalma, one of the kings of the erotic thriller genre, returns to the erotic thriller after a decade away to create the very cold and distancing Passion, filled to the brim with polysexual ice queens and credulous imbeciles. And, while it is very much a DePalma film, he seems to be lost swimming in the modern modern milieu of corporate backstabbing and high-tech corruption.

Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams star as Isabelle and Christine, two a-list power players in the rough and tumble world of marketing who play the game of mentor/mentee while also besting each other. McAdams, as Christine, is the high-powered account executive who takes the somewhat bisexual Isabelle under her wing to leverage Isabelle's ideas for a new campaign to score a job in New York. When Christine takes charge, fucks Christine's boyfriend, and takes credit for her ideas, Isabelle declares war with the boyfriend haplessly being used as a football between the two.

The main difference that separates Passion from most of the other films of the ilk is that we largely take Isabelle's point of view, instead of the point of view of a male. Passion seems to be a response to the feminist assessment/complaints launched at movies like Fatal Attraction and Disclosure, where powerful women are largely the big scary man-eating criminal who victimizes men in order to move up the corporate ladder. Then, in those movies, the male character, with whom the audience is asked to identify, always defeats the evil intentions of the powerful women in order to restore the patriarchy.

Passion is the male response saying, "well, what if we replaced the man with a woman?" What does happen to the film?

*SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT* Well, the woman we're identifying with ends up as the killer, is the answer. It's never the man that's a killer. The men in Passion are too feckless to care about such trampy bitchy ongoings. But, the woman we're watching kills her mentor in an emotional fit of cold calculation. What does that say about the sexual politics of Passion? Well, the movie is still very much "bitches be crazy." Christine is seen as a cold soulless man-eater who even fucks Dirk, her boyfriend, with a strap-on while making him wear a mask which looks like her. Isabelle is a cold, calculating woman who kills her mentor. Isabelle's assistant is a lesbian who has a crush on Isabelle, and lets Isabelle kill Christine in order to blackmail Isabelle into being the assistant's lover.

The lesson of Passion is that most men who make the erotic thriller genre will still make demeaning movies that mark all women as crazy. Especially old, pervy men, like DePalma.

But, the main problem with Passion isn't its regressive sexual politics, in a misguided attempt to be progressive. That kind of comes part and parcel with the erotic thriller genre. The main problem with Passion is DePalma. DePalma has severe tonal shifts that are as jarring as they are terrible, he indulges in neo-noir style camerawork that frequently seems like a film student is imitating both DePalma and Verhoeven's Basic Instinct, and he spends a huge amount of time in the tense world of high-stakes marketing.

The first two acts of Passion are spent watching Christine and Isabelle try to one-up each other while also trying to survive the emotional devastation that they inflict on each other. It's not just dull, it's boring after awhile. The ludicrousness of some of the humiliation adds to how little we, the audience, actually care about the film. Add to it that little of it ultimately matters in the outcome, and that it seems to go on forever, Passion becomes passionless. All the no-nudity-claused Rachel McAdams in sexy outfits and dispassionate sexings, all the displays of kinky toys, and all the Noomi Rapace having awkward sex and in tight outfits, can't make the ongoings any more interesting.

Ultimately, Passion is a late-era DePalma failure. In an attempt to reclaim his former glory of Dressed to Kill or Sisters, while also very consciously trying to not imitate Hitchcock, DePalma created a brief slog of an erotic thriller. Is it terrible? No. There are far more inept films that exist. But, it's merely serviceable, and coming from the hands of somebody who can be as great as DePalma, that's a shame.

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