Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Love & Admiration in "Passion" Trailer

Christine chats up Isabelle in backseat of chauffeured car.


A STORY OF WOMEN FIGHTING for power—and love in the workplace, the teaser trailer for Passion dances a waltz to the sound of a clock ticking. A blond woman in a red power suit walks fast; a brunette turns her head fast; the blonde joins the brunette on a sofa fast and slows down as the sofa sways from her motion. The trailer for Brian De Palma’s film is full of approaching and retreating movement that uses the visual vocabulary of his past films as a language to speak about today’s smart phone world.

The two women are blond Christine (Rachel McAdams) and brunette Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), a boss and protégé at a Berlin ad agency; they always seem on the verge of something, as if something’s bubbling just under the surface. The ticking clock soundtrack is no doubt meant for suspense, but it makes me think of the element of time that drives all of De Palma’s films: clocks, split screens and multiple chances for a person to right a wrong populate his films. In particular, his trademark split screens speak to the nature of things happening at the same time: while someone watches late night reruns of “King of Queens” a person gets murdered.

The trailer speaks to the idea of things in the world happening simultaneously; there is a narrative that runs throughout the trailer, despite not being linear. When Isabelle sits nervously in an office, she wears an upper crust blue scarf; cut to Christine wearing an upper crust blue scarf, but more convincingly; cut to Isabelle in the same scene with Christine, but now Isabelle is wearing the blue scarf and Christine is not: it’s visual storytelling at its best. When Isabelle sits stiffly in the office, she looks like she snuck into her boss’s office to pretend to be the boss. Think of the autograph seeker trying on Eve’s cape and holding her award as she looks at her image reflected times five in a mirror, in All About Eve, or Heather #2 holding Heather #1’s red Scrunchie: it’s all about a person wanting to replace someone else by becoming them.

At this point the protégé is hanging out in the boss’s office and wearing the boss’s scarf. Next, after the boss gives her scarf to her protégé, she says with bedroom eyes, “We make a really good team,” bringing these two women closer together. Wouldn’t you know the next shot is of the boss and protégé at a party (work-related), with the boss holding Isabelle’s face in her hands examining it like an artist admiring her creation? This is where the word “seniority” comes in, because in business “seniority” refers to rank and not age, but since Christine and Isabelle are both in their early 30s Christine interprets seniority as trying to look older and dominant. At the party, Christine wears dangling, phallic earrings with her hair fixed in a severe French bun, while Isabelle looks underdressed, almost school girl-like; maybe because her black blazers and pants look like a school uniform, as well as her bowl-cut bangs.

As all of these images of Christine and Isabelle move gracefully across the screen, there are POV shots of someone walking through a house at night; Venetian blind shadows decorate the house, which looks to be Christine’s house. The Passion trailer has a pattern of entering and exiting, which falls under the category of approaching and retreating. The first shot of the trailer is a POV shot of someone opening the door to Christine’s house; cut to the open door of Christine’s chauffeured BMW that closes once she exits. Then there’s nervous Isabelle inside an office, but it’s still a public space because the office is made of glass, like a fishbowl; not to mention that there are probably cameras in the office. It’s not until Isabelle shares a drink with Christine on Christine’s sofa that they’re in a private space. But are they really?

Drawer full of sex toys & a Kabuki mask.

The person in Christine’s house walks up her stairs closer and closer to the bedroom. Isabelle stirs her cup of coffee/tea in a spiral motion, sitting in Christine’s immaculate white kitchen, as the maid irons on a crisp white iron; note how Isabelle’s fuming eye darts for a split second and then returns to its original position. Christine walks smugly into an office presumably not hers, wearing the much discussed high-waist trousers; of course there’s a mini alabaster statue of a man about to dive off the edge: foreshadowing much? Christine wears a hilarious plastic smile framed by ruby red lips that’s made all the more funny by the fact that De Palma chose to show this scene with the audio from another scene (Christine and Isabelle riding in the backseat of Christine’s chauffeured BMW). Follow that with Isabelle walking into Christine’s office while Christine sits waiting for her; Isabelle has been summoned and the room is painted in Venetian blind shadows, a nod to noir, entrapping Isabelle as if in a prison cell, while Christine is free of any Venetian blind shadows, casually smoking her cigarette with her hair free from her trademark bun.

Inside the backseat of Christine’s chauffeured BMW, Christine chats up Isabelle trying to find out more about her mysterious protégé; the two women are in the same clothes as the work-related party, and probably they’re en route to the party. The back window of the BMW has Venetian blinds a la the cab in On the Waterfront: does this make Isabelle Marlon Brando? Also, there’s the cab in De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, which tells what can happen in a moving cab. De Palma’s camera pans 360 degrees around Isabelle sitting on a bench looking down at her smart phone, while a bus stop billboard for a ballet is next to Isabelle.

Then there’s the De Palma drawer that pops up in many of his films: someone opens a drawer and it contains a plot device. Inside a bedroom Isabelle opens a nightstand drawer full of sex toys and a Kabuki mask, and in the process opens a drawer of De Palma films past. Dressed in a man’s shirt (that likely belongs to Paul Anderson’s character Dirk), Isabelle becomes the cheating wife Jenny from Raising Cain who opens drawers to find birthday gifts that could reveal her infidelity; she becomes the cheating wife Kate Miller in Dressed to Kill who opens a drawer to find a report from the health department stating that the stranger she slept with has VD; she becomes the black-clad Nicolas Bardo in Femme Fatale who opens a drawer to find a gun. The Kabuki mask—molded from Christine's face—that Christine makes her lovers wear is in the drawer and proves to be an important plot device since it appears three times in this trailer.

All the smoking in this trailer puts me in the mind of film noirs, which in relation to De Palma puts me in the mind of Femme Fatale where the main characters smoke like crazy. Christine smokes in her chauffeured BMW while talking on her smart phone (Panasonic?) with devilish eyes; she even talks on her smart phone when taking baths, like Laure Ashe in Femme Fatale who smoked in the tub, but didn't go as far as use a electronic device, but let’s hope she doesn’t fall asleep and dream of life as Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.

Someone wearing a Kabuki mask gets it on with Christine.

Things end up back to the bedroom, just as Christine’s bedroom eyes foreshadowed, and a blindfolded Christine feels her way through the hallways of her home en route to the bedroom. She wears a silk robe that makes me see Liz Blake at the end of Dressed to Kill, in that feminine robe and the nightmare she would have in the bedroom. Back to the BMW with Christine and Isabelle on their way to the party: Christine the boss tells her protégé she wants to be “loved” instead of “admired”; she moves swiftly from bared teeth to bedroom eyes. Again Christine moves in aggressively, always taking the initiative while Isabelle reacts.

The trailer comes to an end with a bed-headed Christine giving what else but the bedroom eyes to the intruder in her house; the leather-gloved intruder removes Christine’s blindfold and caresses her head tenderly. Then BOOOOOM!!! That mask of Christine’s face moves into the camera. It’s fitting that the trailer ends in darkness like when we close our eyes at night to sleep, or dream. 


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