Toronto Review: 'Passion'

A cult film can't be created intentionally; it needs to emerge au natural. A true cult film, particularly a campy one, needs to aim high and fail, but have enough of its own innate quirks to keep it lovable and entertaining. When they made "The Bad Seed" in 1956, they thought they were making a frightening drama, not something to elicit cheers and laughter 55 years later in Chelsea and The Castro.

I have no way of knowing what Brian De Palma's intentions were in making "Passion." If it was to make a riveting suspense film, then he surely failed. But if he's intentionally tweaking the aesthetic of cheapo cable films from the 1990s and directing his stars to emote like porn actresses between sex scenes in the hope of prompting derisive yet supportive laughter, then mission accomplished.

"Passion" concerns three svelte and peculiarly dressed women working at the Berlin branch of an international advertising company. Rachel McAdams is the head of the department, and we know she's crazy because she makes her boyfriend wear a creepy "Amadeus" mask when they are making love. Noomi Rapace ("Prometheus") is her lieutenant, and she's the one who comes up with the million-dollar idea for the new cellphone account. (It involves reversing the male gaze, taking video footage direct from the tush pocket of a woman in tight jeans.) Karoline Herfurt is Rapace's assistant (and the one wearing those jeans), and she's madly in love with her boss.

McAdams may be in love with Rapace, too, but she's also quick to throw her under the bus to get the transfer to New York. This sets off a series of backstabbing incidents that send cars careening into vending machines, spoofed emails to get sent and proof-of-concept videos to get uploaded to YouTube to show "who the true genius is."

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As this cat and mouse game escalates, oftentimes to baffling Glenn Frey-esque music, there is a noticeable crack in the film at around the sixty-minute mark. Heralded by one of De Palma's signature split-screens, "Passion" takes a full dive into the deep end of surrealism and hysterical paranoia. After a major character is killed, we find ourselves in the midst of world's least believable police procedural. The film takes on a hazy quality — I lost count of how many dreams within a dream there were — and the ending is anything but conclusive (no exploding John Cassavetes a la "The Fury" here).

Of the three performances, my favorite is surely McAdams'. Her red lipstick and flat delivery is worthy of the best magnet high school's drama department. The conversations between the heavily accented Rapace and Herfurth successfully evoke the type of cinema one normally enjoys on the privacy of one's computer at a per-minute charge.

Strangely, I found myself enjoying this poorly constructed and wretchedly acted film. I liked it because I was thinking about how some of my more fabulous friends will react to the absurd close-ups, strangely fitting pantsuits and histrionic line readings. As a movie, quite frankly, it stinks. As an "entertainment object," it will no doubt find its boosters.

Grade: C