Text by Christopher Cole
Production designer Cornelia Ott has created a modern world devoid of privacy in “Passion,” director Brian De Palma’s remake of the French film, “Love Crime.” The sly thriller, released in 2012, stars Noomi Rapace as a Creative Director at a Berlin ad agency who worships her beautiful and assertive boss (Rachel McAdams). When McAdams’ character Christine steals credit for an innovative smart phone ad that Rapace’s character Isabelle created, an intricate game of dominance and submission occurs leading to violence. Cornelia Ott designs sets that reflect a tech-savvy world where privacy is sacrificed to satisfy voyeuristic pleasures; the irony is that the more access we have to information, the less access we have to the truth.
Christine’s house is a clean space full of white walls, columns, glass tables and chairs that evoke the minimalist look of Apple stores: glass and open space; a large champagne-colored French sofa anchors the room. The erotic paintings on the walls of Sapphic Grecian women and the carved wood picture of a horse and its master reinforce the film’s theme of dominance vs. submission. The basket of wood (for the mantel-less fireplace) and the trees give the room a rustic element.
Isabelle’s apartment is a small space, yet its minimalist look makes it look larger. The dominant color is white reminiscent of vanilla ice cream, but the color orange plays a memorable supporting role adding warmth to the space: the fruit bowl of orange/white swirl pattern full of apples that rests atop a blond wood table in Isabelle's kitchen. The hallway carpet outside Isabelle’s apartment is a similar orange that continues down a spiraling staircase evoking the cinematic language of Alfred Hitchcock.
Inside the foyer of Dirk’s house (visible from the street through a glass door), three African masks and a spear hang on the wall, and when you see Dirk’s brick-walled bedroom, it’s clear that the masks and spear symbolize masculinity. The bedroom is a little shop of humiliation: in the open bathroom, a ceramic sculpture of a penis sits on the top of the medicine cabinet and a life-size statue of a dog painted white looks up dependent and submissive.
The workspaces are understandably less warm than the living spaces. The glass desk is a feature of both Isabelle and Christine’s offices, as are advertising posters, but Christine’s office again contains small rustic details: Japanese bonsai trees and snake plants. Like Christine’s house, her office filled with white furniture and white walls.
Christine’s penchant for rustic reaches a high point in her bathroom: large tree branches hanging from the ceilings create the atmosphere of a forest, anchored by a white bathtub. The light, clean surfaces start to get dark and messy, as the plot thickens.
The rehearsal for a fashion show that Christine takes Isabelle to is a lesson in symbolism. A screen projection of a moving jellyfish on a ocean-blue backdrop represents duality: a jellyfish is a predator with tentacles, but it 's also a weak, spineless person. The catwalk is transparent as is the floor of lit squares; the chairs are glass and bring to mind the feel of Cinderella’s glass slipper.
The cocktail party at the Bode Museum is pure decadence: walls gilded in gold with marble columns and scrollwork; a sweeping staircase with a gold gilded railing. The calla lilies in vases are calm and elegant. Statues of nude Grecian women display watches in slots on their chests and stomach: the union of sex and consumerism. It’s a luxurious space that is old-fashioned and baroque, a departure from the film’s mostly simple, modern spaces.
All of the spaces share an openness, spaces where there’s nowhere to hide, reflecting the film’s theme of society’s loss of privacy.