Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Femme Fatale

2002's FEMME FATALE may be Brian De Palma on autopilot, but I had so much fun with it I really didn't mind.  The movie came along well after the director had dazzled and/or repulsed the world with his near patented style, seen in a gallery of movies like DRESSED TO KILL, THE FURY, and SCARFACE, to name a few.  Aside from CARLITO'S WAY and the first installment of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, his more recent films had been disappointments, though there was no denying that the director was still working his magic.

FEMME FATALE centers on a jewel thief named Laure Ash (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) who double crosses her accomplices during a heist at the Cannes film festival.  De Palma immediately establishes her character by opening his film with having her watch DOUBLE INDEMNITY in a hotel room.  The heist sequence is typical of the director's long takes, slow tracking and nimble dollying. You will be reminded of several of his previous works.  Also, De Palma's preoccupation with steamy liaisons is well represented by a lesbian encounter in a bathroom - though it does have plot integrity.

As in De Palma's idol Alfred Hitchcock's films, there will be mistaken identity, blonde/brunette doppelgangers, and European locations as Laure makes off with the loot.  Through a series of circumstances for you to discover on your own, she will leave for America and then return to France years later, only to be recognized by her old co-conspirators when her picture is plastered around Paris.  Behind the camera lens was paparazzo Nicolas Bardo (amiably played by Antonio Banderas), who will later find himself heavily involved (in every possible way) with the femme fatale.  To his detriment?

When you reach a revelatory moment late in the movie, you'll realize that De Palma, like Hitch long before him, was playing you.  His trick is cheap, and one you've seen before, but if you've enjoyed the ride you'll likely not mind.  I just laughed.  Then I recalled several earlier moments that gave clues.  Pay attention, invisible audience!  FEMME FATALE exists as a showcase for an artist who plys his trade with as wicked a smile as ever.  His film pulses with life in ways that few do anymore.  De Palma is a great modulator - he knows when to ramp up and down.  His script is a funhouse of deception.  Emotion, too.  When things seem nihilistic he doubles back and even reveals a heart!

And his direction employs all the slow motion, 360 pans, split screens, split focus, and Dutch angles fans have come to love.  There are a few moments of brutal violence and intense sex. FEMME FATALE can sometimes seem smug and aware, but if you buy into it early you should have a fine time.  The film was not a box office success but does enjoy a cult following.  And Rebecca? She's pretty good, suitably duplicitous and cunning most of the time.  But perhaps Brian De Palma should've rather called Linda Fiorentino?

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