Monday, January 21, 2019
Femme Fatale (2002 film)
Written and directed by Brian de Palma, Femme Fatale is the story of a thief who double-crosses her accomplices and takes on a new identity where she marries an American ambassador while being hunted by those she double-crossed. The film is a suspense-thriller that involves the idea of identity and greed with a woman caught in the middle of this theft while going after the photographer that would get her in trouble. Starring Rebecca Romijn, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote, Rie Rasmussen, Thierry Fremont, and Gregg Henry. Femme Fatale is a ravishing yet thrilling film from Brian de Palma.
The film revolves around a thief who stole diamonds with a team only to double-cross them and disappear by taking on the identity of a doppelganger until a paparazzo takes her photo leading to all sorts of shit. It’s a film that play into a woman trying to leave her past behind only to return to France seven years after the theft under a different identity until a photograph would undo everything forcing her to take action and hide from the men she double-crossed. Brian de Palma’s screenplay focuses on the character of Laure Ashe who takes part in a diamond heist that is happening at the Cannes Film Festival where she steals the diamonds from a model she seduces and then goes into business for herself. Through a series of events where Laure had been seen by one of the thieves she betrayed, she is mistaken by a few people as another woman who had disappeared due to the deaths of her husband and child where she realizes that she has a woman who looks like her.
After taking her identity as Lily, Laure meets and marries a rich man who would later become the American ambassador to France where they travel to France seven years after the theft where a paparazzo named Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) would take her photo. One of her betrayers, who had been in prison for seven years for the theft, is freed and picked up by his partner as they see the photo and go on a search leading to Laure to try and get revenge on Bardo by making him a stalker and a kidnapper who wants a $10 million ransom. The script has de Palma play into this intrigue and battle of wits with Bardo becoming more curious about what Laure is doing unaware of her true identity and where he knew her from before.
The direction of de Palma is all style in terms of not just the compositions he creates but also the usage of intricate crane shots, split-screens, and scenes that last for more than a minute or two. Shot largely on location in Paris and various locations in France including the 2001 Cannes Film Festival where that location is where the jewel heist takes place. It’s a sequence where a lot is happening as a film premiere is happening where Laure would seduce the model while one of the thieves would switch a piece of diamond jewelry with a fake as it would be this mixture of sensuality and suspense. It’s an intricately rich sequence that would be followed by scenes that have a similar style to the shot of Laure being thrown from a hotel balcony and landing somewhere as she is mistaken for Lily. The scene of Laure seeing Lily where the latter is unaware of being watched has de Palma aim for something simple in the compositions with its medium shots and close-ups while he would employ wide shots for many of the scenes during the second act of the film.
The direction would have de Palma also create scenes that add some foreshadowing as well as intrigue as it relates to Bardo who becomes aware that he might be set up in an act of revenge yet he also is aware that he has very little choice. The film’s third act is one of not just intense sexuality and desire but also fantasy as it relates to Bardo being blackmailed by Laure in her scheme as she knows that time is running out. There is a twist to what de Palma does yet it is all about the decisions that Laure has made following her betrayal forcing her to wonder if there was a way to hide from her past. Overall, de Palma crafts a gripping and evocative film about a beautiful thief who double-crosses her team and tries to reinvent herself as another person only for her past to catch up with her.
Cinematographer Thierry Arbogast does brilliant work with the film’s ravishing cinematography in terms of its approach to lighting for the interiors at the Cannes Film Festival building along with its usage of stylish lighting for some of the daytime scenes as well as its dream-like look for some of the scenes set at night. Editor Bill Pankow does amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, slow-motion cuts, split-screens, and other rhythmic cuts to help play into the suspense and drama. Production designer Anne Pritchard, with set decorator Francoise Benoit-Fresco and art director Denis Renault, does excellent work with the look of some of the sets including the women’s bathroom at the Cannes building, Bardo’s apartment, and the club that Bardo and Laure go to during its third act. Costume designer Olivier Beriot does fantastic work with the stylish clothes that Laure wears including the skimpy lingerie during the club scene along with the gold/diamond snake top that was designed by Elli Medeiros for the model to wear at Cannes.
Visual effects supervisor Agnes Sebenne does nice work with some of the visual effects that is largely set-dressing as well as some offbeat compositions that de Palma wanted where one person is in the foreground for a close-up with someone else in the background in a medium shot. Sound editor Laurent Quaglio does superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of some of the locations as well as in the quieter moments of the film. The film’s music by Ryuichi Sakamoto is incredible for its lush string arrangements including its variations of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero in some parts of the film that is a major highlight while music supervisor Edouard Dubois provides a soundtrack that features a wide mix of score pieces from other films as well as a few contemporary pieces by Dead Fly Syndrome, Vicarious Bliss, and Damien Saez.
The casting by Kerry Barden, Billy Hopkins, and Suzanne Smith is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Cannes Film Festival curator Gilles Jacob, filmmaker Regis Wargnier who was presenting his film East/West, and its star Sandrine Bonnaire. Other notable small roles include Eriq Ebouaney and Edouard Montrouge as the two men Laure betrayed, Eva Darlan as a woman who mistakes Laure for Lily, Thierry Fremont as Inspector Serra who interrogates Bardo over a kidnapping claim, Rie Rasmussen as the model wearing the gold-diamond corset in Veronica, Gregg Henry as a security officer in Shiff who watches over Lily and her husband, and Peter Coyote as the man Laure as Lily would meet in Bruce Hewitt Watts who would later become the American ambassador to France.
Antonio Banderas is marvelous as Nicolas Bardo as a paparazzo who would get a picture of Laure unaware of her true identity as he becomes a figure of blackmail where he deals with Laure and her plans while becoming aroused by her. Finally, there’s Rebecca Romijn in an incredible performance in the dual role of the thief Laure Ash and her doppelganger Lily where she provides an anguish in the latter as a woman who has suffered great loss while is more cool and playful in the former but also cunning as it is Romijn proving that she’s more than just a beautiful woman but also someone that knows how to be cool.
Femme Fatale is a spectacular film from Brian de Palma that features great performances from Rebecca Romijn and Antonio Banderas. Along with its gorgeous visuals, riveting script, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s playful score, and study of identity and fate. The film is definitely one of de Palma’s finest films in terms of its love for cinema as well as its willingness to play with the conventions of suspense. In the end, Femme Fatale is a sensational film from Brian de Palma.
Brian de Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) – (Greetings) – (The Wedding Party) – (Dionysus in ’69) – (Hi, Mom!) – (Get to Know Your Rabbit) – Sisters - Phantom of the Paradise – Obsession – Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) – Dressed to Kill - Blow Out - Scarface (1983 film) - Body Double – (Wise Guys) – The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Carlito's Way - Mission: Impossible - Snake Eyes - Mission to Mars - The Black Dahlia - (Redacted) – Passion (2012 film) - (Domino (2018 film))
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