The 2010 French film “Crime d’Amour (Love Crime)” opened to unspectacular reviews and indifferent box office in France and then the U.S. But something about it intrigued legendary American filmmaker Brian DePalma. And when a producer pitched the idea of an English-language remake to him, the director of “Scarface,” “Dressed to Kill,” “The Untouchables” and the first “Mission: Impossible,” could see places where this story of two women’s cutthroat (literally) rivalry in the workplace might benefit from “The DePalma Touch.”
“I quite liked the interaction and dramatic interplay between the rival executives in the advertising firm,” he says of that film, which starred Kristin Scott Thomas as a boss who betrays her assistant, Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) leading to deadly consequences as Isabelle seeks revenge. “I really liked the core idea that Isabelle admits that she did something, that she convinces people she did something, and that she was out of her mind when she did. Everything points to her, and those clues are false. It’s kind of an ingenious concept and I ran with it.”
The story already had two variations on DePalma’s beloved femmes fatales, plus Hitchcockian twists and tricks in the plot — another hallmark of his style. What it needed was a way to work in his favorite subject — voyeurism. Think of such ’80s classics as “Blow Out” and “Dressed to Kill,” where characters watch others without them knowing it. “Passion,” the new film version of the story which DePalma adapted and which opens Friday, added today’s favorite voyeurism enabling toy — the smart phone.
“I’m always fascinated by the changes in the way we make movies and the things we make movies about,” he says. “The dominant technology in this movie is the smart phone. It becomes almost a dramatic character.”
He took an idea he found on the Internet — a young woman turns on her phone’s video camera and leaves it in her back pocket to record all the men and woman who turn around to ogle her bottom as she passes them — and built that into an ingenious ad campaign that the “assistant,” Isabelle (Noomi Rapace of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) comes up with, which her boss (Rachel McAdams) then takes credit for.
“In the original movie, it’s about a business deal that the boss takes credit for,” DePalma explains. “There isn’t a campaign — a product. I made the smart phone the thing that is used to expose Isabelle and humiliate her, and the thing that chronicles her deeds or misdeeds as a murder is constructed are documented, in part, by phone.”
DePalma is of a generation of filmmakers who became known for their style — the trademark things they do with characters, scenes and the camera. He shoots long takes to ratchet up tension, often places women in jeopardy and isn’t shy about making women both victims and victimizers.
“They’re prettier,” he cracks, about his fondness for femmes fatales. And imposing his style on a story?
“It’s not something I think about too often, this business of reputation, style, not repeating myself or repeating myself. That’s something the critics impose on it. I look at the material with my people and we try to figure out the best way to make a movie of it. Sometimes, we repeat certain tropes from our earlier work. That’s because that’s who we are. I have these things I do with the camera, with characters, that make up my style. It’s who I am.”
DePalma, who turns 73 on Sept. 11, is part of that generation of iconoclastic filmmakers that includes Coppola and Scorsese, Spielberg, Schroeder and Friedkin. He’s over a decade removed from his last big hit — the first Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” film. DePalma movies have become rarer, and more problematic in recent years — “Femme Fatale” and “The Black Dahlia” bombed, and 2007’s “Redacted” was barely released. William “The French Connection” Friedkin refers to this stage in a veteran director’s career as “An Uphill climb to the Bottom” in his new memoir, “The Friedkin Connection.”
But early reviews of “Passion” are marginally better than those of DePalma’s most recent thrillers — “If you have a taste for murder and a high tolerance for melodrama, ‘Passion’ — albeit mostly passionless — satisfies,” opines the Toronto Globe and Mail.
DePalma knows he was lucky to land friends and former co-stars Rapace and McAdams as his leads, because that meant his movie would get made. Rapace was offered a role, and she pitched it to McAdams, who co-starred with her in the Robert Downey “Sherlock Holmes” sequel.
“You cast movies these days a lot through happenstance,” DePalma says with a chuckle. He just hopes a little of that happens his way as he pulls together a film, “Happy Valley,” on the Joe Paterno-Penn State scandal. “Some of them come together quickly and easily, and some don’t. At this stage, they never seem to fall into place the same way twice.”
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