BRIAN DE PALMA’S FEMME FATALE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Femme Fatale is VINTAGE De Palma – elegant, sexy, totally twisted, and in love with itself and the endless possibilities and conventions of classic noir filmmaking. This is a staggering work of pure cinema, a work that knowingly winks at itself and an entire genre that it looks too for inspiration. De Palma has crafted a neo-noir that feels like it’s paying tribute to the history of film in general, in love with its sultry leading lady, in love with film noir, in love with sex, in love with violence, in love with its own self-reflexive movie-movieness, and most especially, in love with SUPREME cinematic style. I’ll never get tired of re-watching this brilliant piece of work from the Master of the Macabre and I’m perfectly content to have become wholly obsessed with it. It’s my favorite Brian De Palma movie of all time, and that says a lot, because if you know me, you know I worship at the Altar of Brian D. If you’ve never seen the trailer, I highly urge you to check it out, as it’s one of the best, boldest coming attractions ever put together for a movie. But a trailer is only a trailer, and as incredible as it is, it can’t prepare you for the full thing. From the almost totally dialogue free opening sequence lasting nearly 30 minutes and featuring a steamy sex scene and complicated diamond heist during a gala screening at the Cannes Film Festival with Ravel’s Bolero playing on the soundtrack, you know you’re in the hands of a filmmaker who is in total control of his kinky, dreamy, exacting vision. Thierry Arbogast’s smooth, gorgeous, and strikingly composed cinematography is the stuff that dreams are made of; how this film has been ignored on the Blu-ray format is mystifying and insulting. Femme Fatale centers on a perfectly cast Antonio Banderas as a sleazy paparazzi who is tasked with photographing the alluring wife of a senator, played with icy, devilish glee by the stunning Rebecca Romijn, a character that’s clearly been molded on classic femme fatales from yesteryear, most especially Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and countless confused Hitchcockian heroines. And to be honest, for a supermodel with ZERO major acting experience before this film, Romijn was fantastic. Sure, some of her dialogue is stilted, but that might have been De Palma’s intention, and the way that De Palma uses the visual language of filmmaking all around his lead actress shows that he understood how to utilize her in this fearless performance. She’s asked to do a French actress, play multiple “characters,” and showcase an almost unparalleled level of overt sexiness that’s normally shied away from in a major motion picture. The strip tease scene is an absolute all-timer, with De Palma and Arbograst literally making love to her with the camera. Banderas has rarely been this loose and sympathetic on screen, giving a terrifically seedy performance as the greasy paparazzo that gets caught up in a serious web of intrigue with a variety of morally questionable characters. But there’s WAY more to the twisted plot than just that, and I’d be an immense ass to spoil ANY of this wonderfully nasty and playfully hot ‘n bothered thriller, as it’s a film that was clearly made with a grinning and cackling De Palma behind the director’s monitor. Everything about this shifty, tricky, and smashingly sexy movie screams “look at me” in all the best ways that tour de force cinema often can — this was De Palma reminding everyone that he’s still capable of knocking it out of the cinematic park and into the silver-screen freeway. Few films have the same technical bravura that De Palma shows off in Femme Fatale; the almost wordless initial 30 minutes are some of the most gorgeous and inventive bits of visual storytelling that have ever graced the screen, and the entire narrative tips its hat to numerous classics from the past, while allowing for De Palma to get extra modern with the nudity and violence and language. Femme Fatale is the epitome of a multiple viewings movie, because in order to unlock all of its secrets, you need to give yourself up to the wild game that De Palma is playing. You get split screens, tons of slow motion, flashbacks, flash-forwards, dopplegangers, mistaken identity, double crossing, identity theft, and every other sly and over the top narrative and aesthetic trick that De Palma can come up with. This is De Palma’s ode to cinema, ode to women, and ode to a genre that he smashed and elevated every time he took it on.

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