“There were good characters in the original script that Alain Corneau and Natalie Carter had done,” states Brian De Palma. “I started to do the cinematic constructions and story things that would make the thing more mysterious and interesting to the viewer.” Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace and Karoline Herfurth (The Reader) fully embraced the roles they had to play. “The girls were intense so I had to give them a lot of space to do what they had to do. When you’re in a situation like that you try to be quiet and calm. You let them play the scene and see what they do. They had a definite idea of what they wanted to do and would try different variations of it. A good director should sit back and watch what the actors are doing, try to help them if they need some help, get the camera in the right position to catch what they’re doing, and give them suggestions if you want to push the scene one way or another. The girls were intense; they were almost like a tag team playing back and forth. It was amazing to watch.” De Palma purposely inserted a number of shots with both McAdams and Rapace within the frame interacting with each other. “I tend to like not to intercut close-ups and over the shoulders. I find it boring. I see it on television all the time. Any idiot can shoot it. You shoot this. You shoot that. And that’s the scene. Normally I like the actors to play the scene out in a wide shot and if you look at movies in the 1940s and 1950s they do it all the time. You say, ‘Why aren’t we still doing that? I want to see the whole actor’s body. I don’t want to see this head thing all the time. What about their whole body?’ It drives me crazy.”
When questioned about the use of the split screen at a key section in Passion, Brian De Palma answers, “It’s quite simple. Noomi is at the ballet. I’ve got to show her at the ballet at the same time it seems that the murder is taking place at the house. On one side of the screen you see the ballet and this close-up of Noomi. You say, ‘Oh, she must be at the ballet and couldn’t have possibly been at the house.’ Meanwhile you see all of this stuff going on at the house. When the point of view shots begin you don’t see anymore close-ups of Noomi because that close-up is revealed later in the movie as taking place when she is underneath the scaffolding. The juxtaposition of the two images seals in the audience’s mind the fact that Noomi is at the ballet.” To capture the disorientation of the protagonist in his picture, the veteran helmer adopted a camera shooting style associated with film noir. “Isabelle [Rapace] takes a lot of drugs; she wanders around in a haze and doesn’t know exactly what is real, what did happen or what did not happen. That’s when the noirish look takes place. Isabelle is pretending; she is a murderess. However, Isabelle is fooling everybody in the film as well as the audience. She says, ‘I don’t know what happened. I took so many pills. Help me.’ You’re supposed to empathize with her.” De Palma adds, “I like film noir like anybody else; I like those shadows and blinds, and to have the chance to use them at a tilted angle.”
There was nothing thematic or archetypal about having a blonde, a brunette and a redhead on the big screen. “Rachel came with her blonde hair,” recalls Brian De Palma. “Noomi decided we should go with the black look for her because she creates everything in her brain and is not concerned with what’s around her. Rachel is the politician, the wheeler and dealer. Noomi is constantly thinking and trying to get ideas. Danni is the beloved assistant who is in love with her boss. I saw Karoline [Herfurth] in Tom Tywker’s Perfume ; she had this great red hair and I said, ‘Lets keep it red.’” The American helmer kept in the mind the genre of the tale. “This is a murder mystery. The characters have certain aspects but they have to fit in to the architecture of the murder mystery. In this movie everybody seems to be in love with Noomi, a very mysterious girl.” Subsequent to screenings at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals, eOne has acquired the North American distribution rights from SBS Productions for the 29th feature film by De Palma; audience members in the U.S. and Canada can expect an early 2013 release of Passion.
Many thanks to Brian De Palma for taking the time for this interview, and for more of his insights make sure to read I Was There.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.