Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Brian De Palma talks about his stylish new remake, Passion

Illustration for article titled Brian De Palma talks about his stylish new remake, Passion

The case of Brian De Palma continues with Passion, a remake of the late Alain Corneau’s 2010 thriller Love Crime. De Palma’s self-scripted version adds Pino Donaggio, YouTube, split screen, security cameras, a possible twin, and a typically baroque sense of the absurd. Noomi Rapace stars as an advertising executive locked in a professional and romantic rivalry with her boss (Rachel McAdams). Even for those who’ve seen the first film, Passion packs a few surprises—for one thing, De Palma found Corneau’s ending “a little too cerebral for my tastes.”


Doing press on his birthday, September 11, at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the director chatted briefly about the relationship between the two movies, his interest in new film technologies, and his favorite sequences from his career.

The A.V. Club: This movie is an overt remake, which you’ve done before in Scarface, and you’re always remixing and quoting from other people’s films. What made you decide to remake Love Crime?

Brian De Palma: I liked the material. [The producer] was approached by American companies to remake it in English, and he decided that he would prefer to remake it himself rather than sell the property. So he came to me with it. I saw the original film, and I saw great possibilities in remaking it, because there were certain things in it that I thought I could improve.

AVC: In the movie, McAdams takes credit for a DIY ad that Rapace makes, which then goes on to get 10 million views in five hours. One plot point hinges on a video that can be sent from a cell phone. Between this and your last film, Redacted, there’s the sense you’re fascinated with the proliferation of portable media, and the idea that everyone is now a filmmaker.

BDP: Yes, I’m always interested in emerging technology. When I was in high school I used to build computers. I’m very aware of mobile technology. I had every computer that came along. I’ve always been fascinated with how this new technology pops up on the Internet, and various new story forms. It gives me ideas that I employ in whatever I happen to be working on. Redacted is a telling of a terrible incident that happened in Iraq, but it’s told through all these digital forms that emerged in the last decade or so. This film has these things also. The ad, which went viral, was based on an ad that did exactly that. That’s where I got the idea. Two girls went out, stuck a phone in one of their back pockets, ran around town, had people looking at their asses, and they posted it up on the Internet and it went viral. Everybody was taken with it, and then we discovered that they were two advertising executives from New Zealand.

AVC: That story speaks to a recurring idea in your work—that the image is to be distrusted.


BDP: Absolutely, but I’ve always said that. Godard said, “Film is truth 24 times a second.” It’s nonsense. We manipulate images all the time. They’re doing it all the time on television and everywhere else you see images.

AVC: The way you’re playing with conventions is tongue-in-cheek.

BDP: Tongue-in-cheek where?

AVC: When Rachel McAdams brings up that she has a twin—

BDP: Yeah, but she makes you believe that. She makes Noomi believe it, and it’s an extraordinary performance by Rachel McAdams.


AVC: The advertising agency is called Koch Image International. Is that a jab at the Koch brothers’ media saturation?

BDP: No. I’m searching for a German name. I look at German names, and I come up with something that seems to be effective, J.J. Koch. The art director calls me up, “What’s the name of the company?” I look at all these German names, and I come up with one I think that I like.


AVC: In your career, what sequence was the most fun to construct?

BDP: [Pauses.] The end of Dressed To Kill with the white shoes arriving, the Odessa steps sequence in The Untouchables… There are a bunch of them.


AVC: You’re very formally concerned, and you use devices—the split screen during the ballet in Passion is one example—that make the viewer form-conscious. It’s simplifying to say this, but a lot of the directors you allude to, like Hitchcock, would avoid that kind of fourth-wall-breaking intrusion.

BDP: It depends on the material. I try to photograph stuff that comes out of the relationship of the characters and what is demanded in a particular dramatic sequence they’re involved with. Something in Casualties Of War: There’s one close-up in the whole movie, which is kind of a revelation when you consider that everybody today shoots close-ups every other shot. The close-up is a very effective tool, and it should be used at the right time. But that’s what I feel about all of these techniques that I use, whether it be split screen or split diopters or long Steadicam shots. I try to dramatize the material that I’m photographing with the best shot. That’s what I think about all the time—the best shot and the best location. That’s why I think my films are extremely visually vivid. That’s why they stick in your memory.


AVP: What do you think of the broad shift that’s been going on in filmmaking and in exhibition, from celluloid to digital?

BDP: The market will determine that. It’s all going digital. It’s like people complaining about “Are books going to live?” You can’t compete with stuff like this.


AVP: Does that make you sad?

BDP: No. Look, I’m Mr. High Tech. I’m fascinated by all these new things.