By Ezra Stead
Love Crime, France, 2010
Directed by Alain Corneau
Passion, Germany / France, 2012
Directed by Brian De Palma
It was probably a mistake on my part to watch both of these films within the same week, seeing as how they are very similar in plot and incident throughout the first two acts of each film. However, when I heard that Brian De Palma’s latest film was actually a remake of a fairly recent French thriller I had been meaning to see anyway, and that the original film was readily available to stream on Netflix, I decided “Why not?” I say it was a mistake mainly because I think I would have enjoyed De Palma’s film, Passion, more if the many elements directly adapted from the earlier Alain Corneau film, Love Crime, had been entirely new to me. I also feel that those elements were better handled in the original film, a taut, suspenseful, supremely clever thriller upon which De Palma apparently felt he could improve by adding a lot of his classically lurid, dreamlike De Palma flourishes, as most recently seen in the far superior Femme Fatale (2002) and the definitely inferior The Black Dahlia (2006).
Most of these changes occur in the third act, which abandons the original film’s neat tying up of loose ends in favor of a series of twists that beg the question of just how much of the film takes place in objective reality, and how much is just a guilty fever dream in the mind of the protagonist/antagonist (the lines are decidedly blurred in both films), Isabelle (Noomi Rapace in Passion; Ludivine Sagnier in Love Crime). However, one major decision De Palma made to alter the overall impact of his version of the story is made much earlier on and, while it paves the way for a conclusion (or, more accurately, a series of mini-conclusions) that seem designed to completely baffle the viewer, its less coherent approach annihilates all the superbly crafted, thoroughly compelling suspense of Love Crime.
Here is the major difference: in Love Crime, when Isabelle’s cruel, manipulative boss, Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas; Rachel McAdams in Passion) is murdered in her home late one night, the viewer is immediately privileged with the information that it was, indeed, Isabelle who killed her. There is no question about it, as Isabelle removes her mask and then proceeds to frame herself for the murder, writing the first three letters of her own name on the floor, using Christine’s own hand and blood, and also rips a piece of a scarf gifted to her by Christine to conspicuously leave at the scene of the crime. When she is subsequently apprehended by police, she quickly confesses to the murder and is sent to prison. This builds a gripping interest in the viewer, as we wonder why she is doing this. Why carefully plot a seemingly perfect crime only to then go out of your way to make yourself appear as guilty as possible? What exactly is her plan? As the film unfolds, there is a profound sense of satisfaction as each tiny detail of the brilliant plan reveals itself.
On the other hand, De Palma’s film never seems content with the level of obfuscation it can achieve, constantly adding doubt to the otherwise identical storyline by working in extraneous, misleading tidbits such as a supposed twin sister of Christine’s who may or may not exist, and who serves no purpose other than confusion. De Palma also ramps up the sexual tension between the two female leads from the subtle and teasing hints in the original film to full-on make-outs between them, as well as with Isabelle’s assistant, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), who was a man named Daniel (Guillaume Marquet) in Love Crime. No big surprise there, as De Palma is clearly fascinated with lesbian sex, and many of his other pet devices are present as well, such as the extended use of split-screen, and that shot he loves to do in which a character ducks out of frame to reveal an antagonist directly behind them, used to far better effect in Femme Fatale and Raising Cain (1992), to name just two examples.
It’s not that Passion is a bad film, per se, and it’s certainly a good deal of fun, especially if you enjoy the drunk-on-cinema peccadilloes of De Palma in noir mode, which I absolutely do. It’s just that, as a remake of such a recent film, I can’t help but hold it up next to the original and find it lacking. Rachel McAdams in particular can’t hold a candle to Kristin Scott Thomas’ performance, and being asked to step into those very large shoes is a thankless task for her, almost as unrewarding as her recent glorified cameo in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder. However, it is amusing to imagine her character as a grown-up version of Regina George from Mean Girls (2004), one of my very favorite comedies of the past decade. De Palma’s film is certainly worth watching for fans of his work, but it isn’t likely to convert anyone, and if you’re only going to see one version of this story, I’d recommend checking out Love Crime instead.
Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper and poet who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City.
For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com.