Film Reviews

FEMME FATALE

By • Nov 6th, 2002 •

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FEMME FATALE is spellbinding fun and deliciously exploitative. We haven’t seen such contrived, personal style like this in a long, long time. It’s an illusionary thriller tightly packed with every conceivable fetishistic totem. Does it wrap up as neatly as MEMENTO? Probably not, even on multiple viewings; but nonetheless, it is elegantly crafted and enjoyable.

What’s more alluring than a beautiful, dangerous, unscrupulous woman in Paris? Director/writer Brian De Palma heightens the Hitchcockian noir genre with his famous signature style of dazzling gliding shots, split screens, and images moving into existing scenes. Clearly obsessed with evil femme fatales, Di Palma has created a blond that is hard, cold, and sexually hungry. Then he gets her naked. Over and over again. Di Palma has found the perfect instrument in former model Rebecca Romijn-Stamos – she’s used to having a camera aggressively trained on her face.

The film starts off nearly wordlessly, as we follow jewel thief Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) and her vicious crew steal a ten million dollar “breastplate.” The actual theft requires Laure seduce the model (Rie Rasmussen) wearing the necklace in a bathroom at the Cannes Film Festival. Laure takes off with the necklace leaving her crew behind. Mistaken for a grieving wife named Lily at a church and taken back to the woman’s apartment, Laure finds Lily’s passport and an airline ticket to New York. She decides to impersonate the woman and reinvent herself. Laure/Lily’s life takes an immediate quick turn when she meets a wealthy man on the flight.

Its now seven years later and Laure is married to Watts (Peter Coyote) who has recently been named ambassador to Paris. Nicholas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) is a paparazzo paid to photograph the ambassador’s reclusive wife for a tabloid. Once her photo is splashed all over Paris, Laure’s whereabouts and new identity are revealed to her former cohorts. Unwittingly, Brado becomes embroiled in Laure’s scheme to escape her past once again and, true to Laure’s nature, score some blackmail money.

Without revealing plot, this is the story on its face. However, it’s a much more complex thriller with twists and turns and far-fetched coincidences. A ruthless, faithless, castrating, shape-shifting (I really mean wig-wearing) femme fatale – Di Palma’s portrait of women becomes more defined and uncompromising with each film he writes.

While Banderas doesn’t seem like the ideal co-star opposite the statuesque Romijn-Stamos, he continues to have a sexual presence that comes through even though here his role is that of a confused patsy. If Brado is meant to be a symbolic voyeur-at-large, the character misses in psychological content. Rather, Brado is merely doing his job. Perhaps Di Palma and Banderas were reluctant to express Brado’s voyeurism as a thematic character trait. Doesn’t voyeurism instantly conjure up the image of a creepy guy masturbating under someone’s window? All Brado does is passively respond to Laure. However, a mute, barroom thug almost steals the heat from Banderas just by getting a lap dance/strip show from Romijn-Stamos. This scene was totally unnecessary, but no doubt pleased the director to bits. (Ah, the unused footage for the director’s private reel!)

This is not the type of film directors are anxious to make. It’s too easy for a sexy noir thriller to end up looking pretentious and silly. Di Palma seems fixated on the cinematic archetype of the beautiful woman without a soul and he’s single-handedly keeping her alive in films. Gorgeous stars, sophisticated filmmaking, fabulous music, and luscious Paris – FEMME FATALE is terrific adult entertainment. I most enjoyed thinking about Laure having to use a phony French accent for her entire seven-year marriage to Watts.


Cast:
Laure/Lily…Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Nicolas Bardo…Antonio Banderas
Watts…Peter Coyote
Black Tie…Eriq Ebouaney
Veronica…Rie Rasmussen
Shiff…Gregg Henry

Credits:
Produced by Tarak Ben Ammar and Marina Gefter
Written and Directed by Brian De Palma
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures

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