Exclusive Interview: Brian De Palma on Passion

Passion Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma… wow, I was nervous. The director of classic films like Dressed to KillThe UntouchablesCarrieScarface and Blow Out is one of the most lauded cinema stylists of his generation. His latest film, Passion, is an acidic thriller starring Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Rachel McAdams (To the Wonder) as businesswoman trapped in a cycle of treachery that soon turns deadly. It's Brian De Palma's first film in over five years, features some of his signature cinematography tricks, and is so wrapped up in its own mystery there was no way to really talk about it without MAJOR SPOILERS

Even though I had a half hour with Brian De Palma, there wasn't much time to delve too deeply into his previous films, but I made time for two of my personal favorites – Raising Cain and Body Double – about which De Palma had fascinating stories, particularly about the alternate versions of each film. 

Passion opens theatrically on August 30, 2013, and is now available on Video On Demand (VOD).

CraveOnline: This is a remake of a film I'm actually unfamiliar with, Crime d'amour, and I'm wondering was this a case of you just saw the film and immediately decided you wanted to put your own stamp on this, or was it a more complex decision than that?

Brian De Palma: No, the producer showed the original French film at Toronto and he was approached by some American companies to buy the rights to remake it in English and he felt there was so much enthusiasm for it, that why didn't he remake it himself? So, he was someone that liked my movies and he approached my agent and sent him the movie. I saw it and I said, "Yeah! I can see ways to remake this," and that's what happened, basically.

What did you see in the film that you wanted to do with the remake?

Well, I liked the relationship between the two women. I liked the fact that I could go and live in Paris for a couple of years and write the script and prepare the movie. I liked using an international cast and I thought of all kinds of ways I could improve the kind of mystery story aspects of it. In the original movie, you see Isabelle kill Christine so suddenly, halfway through the movie, it's about all these phony clues that Isabelle creates and then you need all the flashbacks to show why the clues are phony and how the police are fooled, which I felt was a bit laborious and not too suspenseful.

Sounds more like a procedural than a proper mystery.

Yes, yes. Very much a procedural.

I was kind of fascinated by how you shot this film because so often your films have a lot of virtuoso camera work and in the first half of Passion, you're relatively restrained. It's beautifully composed but it's a little restrained and then once the murder mystery begins, it goes off in a very different direction and the lighting changes and the camera work changes. Could you tell me about that decision?

Well, I have heard that but… In this genre, to some extent, you have to set up the characters, the rivalry, the point at which you've basically pushed one to murder the other and it's basically businesswomen, you know, working within an advertising agency so you're trying to restrict it, visually, to characters walking down hallways and talking to each other across desks. So, until we get to the night of the murder, we really can't introduce the surreal element, "Was she dreaming this? Did she take too many sleeping pills?" How she's fooling herself, us and the audience, that you can really kind of take off. So, that's the way it sort of laid its way out.

Regarding the advertising executive aspect of it, I thought it was interesting and I suppose I might just be a film student and reading too much into this, but I thought it was interesting that you opened on the Apple logo.

Yeah. You know, there was no commercial in the original movie. It was just some kind of business deal that they were working on. It was never specifically spelled out what exactly they were working on so I came up with this idea of this smart phone commercial and the ingenius way that Isabelle comes up with this way of featuring these smart phones and then using the smart phone like an icon, all way through the movie.

There's this element of voyeurism in a lot of your movies, of people filming each other, like the beginning of Sisters, and it strikes me now that that's almost more relevant than ever, now that everyone has a video camera on them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Yeah, welcome to Google Glasses.

Oh, God. Right? That's gonna be a real problem. But, it's a very playful commercial that Isabelle comes up with and introduces this sort of sexuality to the film as well.

It's a commercial which I saw on the Internet.

Oh, is that based on a real thing?

That is a real commercial, made by two girls, that went viral and everybody thought it was just two girls messing around with a smart phone and in reality, it was a couple of advertising executives. So, I said, "Yikes! There it is!" So, I basically you know, replicated it.