TIFF 2012 – Passion Review (Dustin SanVido)

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Passion (2012)

Starring Rachel McAdams, Noomie Rapace, Paul Anderson, Karoline Herfurth

Written by Alain Corneau and Brian De Palma

Directed by Brian De Palma

Passion reminds me so much of Gus Van Sant’s much-maligned remake of Psycho, the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, in that both are pretty much shot-for-shot remakes with little else to offer. Whereas the remake of Psycho was a deliberate carbon copy of its predecessor that suffered from a group of actors who were distracting from the film because of their stardom and reluctance to diverge from the source material, Passion, a remake of the French film Crime d’amour, is a little more complicated than that. I admit I was excited to see Brian De Palma return to the screen after a run of commercial and critical failures (Redacted and the somewhat underappreciated Black Dahlia) and felt his sentimentality for the filmmaking techniques he innovated during his great run of thrillers in the 80’s would perfectly accentuate and expand upon the original film’s sexually charged themes and thrills. What I found though is a film that didn’t change all that much from the original and instead felt extremely tiresome and dated. And for a film that promised the erotic thrills of his past work such as Body Double and Dressed to Kill, the end result amounted to not much more than a campy and seemingly intentional farce.

The story revolves around the relationship between Christine (McAdams), a ruthless ad executive for a French marketing firm and her seemingly naive assistant Isabelle (Rapace). After Christine deliberately steals an idea from Isabelle for a new cellphone ad which has management excited and offering promotions, the assistant begins a game of cat-and-mouse and one-upmanship that slowly escalates toward one of the silliest murder plots of recent memory. Also involved in the shenanigans of Christine and Isabelle is the rivals’ shared lover (Paul Anderson) and Isabella’s own assistant (Karoline Herfurth) who is clearly in love with her boss. I’ll be quite honest, I was on board with the silliness and preposterousness of the first hour or so of this film, but once the film transitioned from light sexual thriller (at best) to campy paranoia and farcical police procedural, I began to imagine myself in a theatre watching Muppets Treasure Island, and how much better of an experience I had with that than what Passion turned out to be.

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The biggest problem with Passion is not with the direction of De Palma, we’ll get to that, but in the just plain wrong acting choices. I will first say that I enjoy the past work of all the actors involved in this project and don’t fault them at all for what I witnessed onscreen, aside from Isabelle’s assistant they’re all just simply miscast. McAdams is skilled and does her best at an adult version of her antagonist from Mean girls but she is just too young to portray this ruthless and vindictive a character. This is made more obvious when calling to mind the superior and mature performance of Kristen Scott Thomas in the original. Rapace is also in trouble. I’d actually prefer her as Christine than McAdams and have Herfurth play her role instead. This is the second English language film for her where she is so much better than the material (see Sherlock Holmes 2), I’d be happy with her making films in her native language from here on out. The rest of the actors are completely changeable and to me, with such a campy tone throughout the film, anyone could have played the supporting cast.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

DePalma has had himself quite an up and down career and this continues in Passion. This whole film is up and down and I’m not sure if I was supposed to be taking what I was seeing seriously or treating it as comedy. If the film had kept a serious tone like the original throughout, I wouldn’t have noticed the cracks in the plot beginning to give way and ultimately proving just how dated his techniques as a filmmaker have become. The score didn’t do him any favours either, as it was as schizophrenic as the narrative.

I am a firm believer of the figure of speech “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks”, and as such, it may be nearing that time for DePalma to hang up his six shooters and find another hobby, as it appears to me that’s what filmmaking has become for him. That is unless he can acknowledge the techniques he used to remain successful for so long are best to be left in the past and that he should embrace the current trends and filmmaking styles of the present and future. I certainly hope so, as I was a fan of his work for so long and hope he gives us another masterpiece the way he used to in his earlier days.

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Fantasia 2012 – Errors of the Human Body Review (Matt Hodgson)

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Errors of the Human Body (2011)

Starring Michael Eklund, Karoline Herfurth, Tomas Lemarquis, and Rik Mayall

Directed by Eron Sheean

Science and movies almost never seem to mix, especially if you’ve ever had any experience with the slow and rigorous beast that is scientific research. It’s understandable given that the average movie is about 100 minutes and the average scientific inquiry probably takes year to complete from start to finish. The two are certainly not the most compatible. That said, some filmmakers have still been able to do it justice. Even though Altered States deals with pseudo-scientific material, it really feels like a scientific movie, and a damn good one at that. Errors of the Human body started off quite well and got me hoping for the next ‘Altered States’, however the story was taken in a different direction than I was anticipating and without as much impact to the viewer as could have been possible. The result is an odd film that is at times beautiful and intelligent, while at others a little confusing and not as hard hitting as it could have been.

Geoff Burton (Eklund) is a controversial scientist whose fame or notoriety is direct result of loss he has experienced. Burton and his now ex-wife lost their infant son to a rare genetic disorder, and now Burton’s goal is to use his son as an example to understand and prevent these sad stories in the future. Far from eugenics, Burton has developed a method of screening embryos in order to detect rare genetic illnesses. In a move to the cold and wintry landscape of Dresden, Germany; Burton reunites with an old student, Rebekka, also an old flame, who may be on the brink of an incredible discovery that would have incredible implications for Burton’s research. However, the research environment has the same kind of cutthroats previously found on the high seas, maybe even worse. Burton and Rebekka must work together to protect her discovery from a creepy scientist named Jarek who has ambitious plans of his own.

Errors of the Human Body features some beautifully appropriate photography of the frozen landscape of Dresden, the equally cold confines of research laboratories, and images of cells through the lens of a microscope. The world of science is really all about the micro as it relates to the macro and Errors mirrors this perfectly, especially in the first-half of the film. The images of cells and microscopes are lightyears away from the absurdity of 2011’s The Thing, in which I had to stifle my laughter as alien cells assimilated human cells in a parody of real science. Even though ‘real’ science will never have a place in a feature film, Errors does a remarkable job getting as close to the discipline as possible, creating a very plausible research environment.

The performances are quite solid across the board with the very creepy Lemarquis turning in the best performance in my books. It’s a shame that the script doesn’t have darker avenues for Lemarquis’ character to venture down, but I suppose the story didn’t call for it. Eklund does some serious brooding throughout the movie while still remaining a character who audiences should care about. He mentioned during the introduction to the film that he initially had no interest in traveling to Germany for a shoot. I wonder if Eklund channeled his personal wishes to get out of this frozen environment into his character, contributing to his solid performance as Burton. If I was in his position, I sure would have tried.

Errors tells the story chosen by the filmmakers, but it was a bit disappointing as certain scenes early in the film hint of very dark implications which are only partially realized. Errors could have turned into a frightening horror or sci-fi piece, but instead is happy to stay a drama or character piece. I have to admit that it is fairly successful as a character driven story, but I would have liked something more fantastical given the hints early on in the film. Finally, it was clear what the filmmakers were saying about their characters, but what they were saying about science, if anything, was a little harder to understand. This film could certainly be interpreted as anti-technology or anti-science by some, regardless of the intentions of the filmmakers, but I hope this isn’t the case. There are enough anti-science voices these days who don’t understand that science cannot commit atrocities, only people can. Science and technology are no more inherently evil than the brain of a newborn child.

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