Brian De Palma is undeniably one of the most erratic directors to have come out of the 1970s Golden Generation. Responsible for the genre-defining magnificence of Scarface (1983) and Carrie (1976), he’s also liable to make snorefests like The Black Dahlia (2006) and Mission to Mars (2000). Often thrilling and infuriating in the same movie – sometimes in the same scene – De Palma returns to the Lido this year with Passion (2012), a Giallo-infused, US remake of Alain Corneau’s 2010 erotic thriller Love Crime.
Noomi Rapace plays Isabelle, an advertising executive fretting over a campaign for a new smart phone. She has a close, almost stifling relationship with her boss Christine (Rachel McAdams), who promotes and supports her, but is not above stealing her work and humiliating her in front of other employees when it serves her purpose. Isabelle is not the demure lamb she makes herself out to be, and on a business trip to London she beds Christine’s shifty, hirsute and remarkably unattractive boyfriend Dirk (Paul Anderson). However, it’s not the sexual infidelities that set the women at loggerheads, so much as the manoeuvring over a prized job in New York.
After the more experimental approach of his Iraq drama Redacted (2007), De Palma’s new effort feels very much like a return to his discomfort zone of psychosexual tension. Trademark flourishes – split-screen action and extended musical sequences – are played with gusto and there is some fun to be had with the Chinese box plot, which during the last act of the movie abandons all pretension of realism and heads for delirium. However, Passion ultimately fails to deliver on its own terms and the fun is hampered by a refusal to go all the way.
For a movie that is being promoted as an erotic thriller in the ‘tradition’ of Basic Instinct (1992) and Body of Evidence (1993), there is actually very little sex within the film – and what there is, frankly isn’t erotic. In 1984’s Body Double, one scene of the two leads kissing, fully-clothed, burns through the screen. Here, we have a drawer full of dildos and a semi-clad Rachel McAdams promising all sorts of naughtiness, but it all comes to nothing. Times have changed. Lesbians are no longer transgressive, unfathomable objects of fear and fascination – now they’re just (you know) lesbians.
There are admittedly a couple of sequences within Passion that fans of the director will adore – a visit to the ballet is a particular high point – and De Palma adeptly uses music, this time provided by Pino Donaggio. Sadly, the renowned American director’s latest film feels like an unambitious chamber piece, a folly with flashes of brilliance, but which ultimately won’t be raising anyone’s temperature.
The 69th Venice Film Festival runs from 29 August-8 September. For more of our Venice 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.