Endelig lidenskap for De Palmas Passion

Av nålevende regissører er det maks en eller to stykker som mottar samme nesegruse beundring fra undertegnede som Brian De Palma, en filmskaper som kontinuerlig har diskutert mulighetene som befinner seg i et filmisk bilde – på endeløst oppfinnsomme måter. En bildets makabre filosof som har gjort eksess, kitsch og generell smakløshet til betydningsfull kunst.

De Palma er sublim i sin blokkbokstavelige bombastiskhet, nesten kompleks når han er banal. Med andre ord: den ultimate subversive filmskaper, alltid misforstått av kritikerne i sin samtid, avvist av det store publikum og omfavnet av dem som skriver teoribøker og holder seminarer – med oppriktig interesse for filmspråket.

I lang tid har fansen smurt seg godt inn med tålmodighet, i påvente av mesterens comeback etter den svært kontroversielle og ofte forhatte (men selvfølgelig interessante) Venezia-vinneren Redacted. Og nettopp i Venezia fikk hans nye film Passion premiere forrige fredag, til buing og klagerop under pressevisningen – som også plantet seg inn i de påfølgende lunkne anmeldelsene som ble publisert utover helgen. Det var et trist syn, selvfølgelig, samtidig som jeg ikke på noen måte klarte å kjøpe at det var noe hold i slakten. Dette av to årsaker: for det første blir De Palmas filmer nesten alltid kraftig undervurdert, og sjelden verdsatt i sin samtid (mesterverket Femme Fatale fra 2002 er et spesielt hårreisende eksempel); dernest syntes jeg at omtalene bar preg av fordommer og manglende evner til å lese filmens prosjekt – innvendingene virket substansløse, nærmest fordummende. Likevel, et lite stikk av bekymring kjente man jo.

Da er det en stor glede for meg å kunne meddele at filmen har fått bedre omsorg under den pågående filmfestivalen i Toronto. Et knippe yngre, ambisiøse amerikanske filmkritikere som Montages-redaksjonen følger tett, har virkelig omfavnet filmen og beskrevet den som et særdeles spennende bidrag til De Palmas filmografi. Som jo allerede er en utømmelig kilde til alle former for dypdykk.

Nettpublikasjonen Slant Magazine (som kjørte en ypperlig De Palma-retrospektiv for et par år siden) og deres kritiker Jordan Cronk er nærmest over seg av begeistring:

Brian De Palma has traditionally worked best when indulging the grand gesture, with the overblown confidence of someone drunk on their own talent, but with the proper self-awareness not to take himself too seriously. But coming off two alternately stale and incensed films (2006’s The Black Dahlia and 2007’s Redacted), it seemed as if the lurid soil that De Palma has most fruitfully tilled over the years wasn’t territory he wished to revisit anytime soon. But as Pino Donaggio‘s dramatically sensual score (his first for De Palma since 1992s Raising Cain) greets the opening titles of Passion, De Palma’s first film in five years, it’s clear that this master of the erotic thriller is back on home turf, with all the luscious violence, sensationalistic flourishes, and base pleasures that has come to entail. […]

Close readings of De Palma’s work in this mode often prompt accusations of shallowness and questions regarding the level of seriousness at play beyond the surface. And if Passion does indeed lack substance, I’d argue that it features at least the necessary amount of subtext to carry it’s outlandish plot past parody (which it does directly engage with on occasion) and into the realm of social and economic commentary. […] This is obviously material ripe for dramatic staging, and De Palma continues to deploy his trademark aesthetic touches with a master’s hand. After undercutting Isabelle with a particularly evil display of public embarrassment, the movie shifts tones from corporate drama to psychosexual thriller, with canted angles, split-screen dioramas, and dramatically shadowed sequences of violence and eroticism. […]

The film occasionally veers perilously close to losing the thread, but at all times it’s apparent who is truly pulling the strings and manipulating these characters, as scenes oftentimes dramatically contradict one another only to play off the tension provoked by such juxtapositions just to pull the rug out from under the viewer. De Palma has long since abandon verisimilitude, but there’s an emotional truth to the narrative that precludes reading these characters strictly as ciphers. The mileage De Palma has gotten out of this formula, which itself is a knowing revision of the modes of the classic thriller construct, is impressive. And while Passion never demands anything above direct engagement with our basic fears and emotions, it’s all the more fun when one allows the surface pleasures to bolster its themes, thus enhancing our understanding of De Palma and his continued pursuit of realizing the potential of the cinematic form.

Kritikerne Noel Murray og Scott Tobias hos A.V. Club nikker også anerkjennende til Passion, men understreker sin personlige svakhet for De Palmas umiskjennelige, fetisjistiske formgrep (noe jeg selv kjenner meg igjen i):

I could wax on about how De Palma’s new erotic thriller Passion is about the difficulty of maintaining a sterling public identity in an age when security cameras and cell phones are capturing our every move, waiting for us to slip. But that doesn’t really explain why the first half-hour of the movie is so flat, or why so much of the plot (taken almost verbatim from Alain Corneau’s recent Love Crime) is so preposterous, or why the last 10 minutes (wholly a De Palma invention) makes no damn sense. I’d be more honest if I just said, “There’s a scene where a character gets stalked and killed on one half of a split-screen, while the other half shows a fourth-wall-breaking performance of Afternoon Of A Faun, and it is awesome.” Ultimately, I have to admit that when it comes to De Palma, I mostly just like the kitty. Which isn’t to say that I’d be blowing smoke if I defended Passion on thematic grounds. […]

De Palma’s vision of an office constructed of glass and screens is a witty play on transparency—no secrets can be obscured when every surface is a window. But as Noel suggests, Passion doesn’t kick into gear until the second half, when De Palma’s labored plotting ends and he can finally uncork one dazzling setpiece after another. The film has the for-fans-only quality of other little-loved De Palma exercises like Femme Fatale, Raising Cain, or Body Double.

Likevel er det nok Daniel Kasmans omtale hos MUBIs Notebook som etterlater sterkest inntrykk. Ikke bare fordi Kasman alltid er en velopplagt og genuint reflektert kritiker, men fordi han makter å overbevise meg om at De Palma nok en gang gjør noe progressivt, samtidig som han kultiverer sine egne troper.

Kasman viser en umiddelbar innsikt i De Palmas univers – ikke minst potensialet for subversivitet som oppstår i hans hemningsløse og filmhistorisk velfunderte sjangerlek – og understreker at filmen er så utprøvende og kunstnerisk ambisiøs at den nødvendigvis vil gå over hodene på mange av dem som må felle dom etter bare én visning.

But the real film legacy project here at TIFF is Brian de Palma’s Passion—for me, the film (or, actually, video) of the festival so far. It is an old man’s movie par excellence, taking film history as the subject of a work of cinema that would better fit within the context of the experimental works in the Wavelengths section than in the multiplex in which it was shown, seemingly baffling an audience expecting a semblance of realism from the screen. Its oldmanness is the deep, precise pursuit of the conventions of the cinema De Palma has been engaging with for the length of his career, and thereby engaging his career itself. […]

De Palma plunges without hesitation into the iconography, audience expectations, and conventions of noirs, sex thrillers, corporate intrigue, post-Hitchcock films and Brian De Palma movies themselves, retaining the shell appearance of all of these things but hollowing them from the inside out. The result is something out of late Resnais—a study of a study. And that study, of course, is of the cinema image. Remember how Rebecca Romijn watches Stanwyck in Double Indemnity at the beginning of Femme Fatale, as if taking notes? The characters in Passion have taken notes from Femme Fatale: an abstraction based on a fiction based on a fantasy. It is complex, dextrous, and awkward: Rachel McAdams plays and acts the seductive, power hungry blonde in a performance that is like a kabuki imitation of the type; Noomi Rapace is her underling, friend, object of love and obsession, our heroine and, therefore, at first, directed to act “normally.” (This film’s skewering of cinematic female friendship is twisted, sinister, cynical and terribly interesting.) Like in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, but far more knowingly, cleverly, the director is here forcing a confrontation between two entirely different acting styles and kinds of characters.

Daniel Kasman beklager seg over at den kjappe festivalrapporteringen ikke gir ham rom til å gå grundigere til verks rundt hvordan De Palma bruker digital video, men alle som ble lettere bekymret over den glatte estetikken i traileren ser ut til å kunne puste lettet ut (jeg må nesten understreke at jeg ikke var blant disse selv).

I feel like I could talk about this movie forever—it comes so welcome after, in Cannes, suffering through the shockingly disrespectful cultural and cinematic ignorance on display in another ostensibly generic, and homage filled film, John Hillcoat‘s deplorable Lawless. De Palma’s film is suffuse with a deep knowledge film history and aesthetics, and, in yet another remarkable engagement with digital video (after his first foray in his last film, Redacted), has constructed a film that questions our expectations, understanding, interest, empathy and perspective on them. The lucid, confrontational clarity of the digital images renders the film’s hermetic artifice—despite being often photographed on location—even more dissonant, heightened and abstract. The archness of the film is absolute. It is a work of cinephilia but one which remarkably takes the form of a step forward—it’s an object that exists in the continuum of the subject that it is studying.

I know you liked this film too, so I’ll perhaps let you take the baton from my ramblings, because I haven’t even begun to talk about De Palma’s use of video in this, his close-ups which appear like nothing else in the festival, his total understanding of what’s interesting in Rapace’s face, of the startling falseness of McAdam’s sub-Dressed to Kill simulacrum, the film’s perverse and knowing humor and absurdity, its roleplaying, the images within images (him and Ferrara both, loving Skype video calls!), including a mini cellphone cam movie that is pure De Palma and also an advertisement for jeans. What else, what else? Oh, to leave you with another favorite: the film’s one split screen sequence, a magnificent anti-set piece, yet so clever, placing a ballet performance in one screen with uninteresting plot mechanics in the other. Can you tell I’m excited? This film is strange and rich. I’m sorry I can’t be more coherent and structured in this, as it appeared a lot of people didn’t like if not downright hated or laughed at this movie, which I think is a mistake.

Brian De Palma er selv for øvrig helt klar over at filmene hans er polariserende, og på karakteristisk manér nekter han seg ikke for å rette et sleivspark mot kritikervirket. The Canadian Press rapporterer fra pressekonferansen i Toronto:

Since premiering at the Venice Film Festival, the film has divided critics and filmgoers, which hasn’t surprised De Palma. While some see «Passion» as a campy, unintentionally hilarious romp, others say they appreciate the baroque style that De Palma is famous for, including a bombastic orchestral score that punctuates the film’s key moments. He thinks filmgoers will enjoy the ride and accuses critics of not appreciating his storytelling style. «That’s happened through most of my movies, I think (critics) have preconceptions going in, they kind of review it against their preconceptions, they don’t really watch,» he says.»They’re not really trained to watch what’s on the screen basically, they’re trained to hear dialogue, have everything be solved through dramatic interplay of dialogue, they’ve been brought up on television which is basically radio, they’re not really attuned to just watching things. And consequently you get this division of reaction.»

Ifølge Scanbox, som skal distribuere filmen på kino i Norge, er det fortsatt usikkert når og i hvilket omfang Passion skal brettes ut for publikum i Norge, men etter alle solemerker kan vi forvente at premieredatoen blir i januar eller februar 2013. Lenge å vente for oss utålmodige fans, selvfølgelig, men dette er i tråd med den europeiske lanseringen for øvrig, så en eventuell tidligere visning må regnes som en ren bonus.

Når det gjelder De Palma selv er han allerede i gang med forberedelsene til sin neste film Heat, en remake av gangsterfilmen med samme navn fra 1986 (altså ikke Michael Manns klassiker). Jason Statham skal spille hovedrollen, og innspillingen forventes å begynne i løpet av høsten eller tidlig i 2013.