Brian De Palma’s Passion and Alain Corneau’s Love Crime: A Brief Style Comparison Part Two

(This post is the second of two appendices to the post, “Brian De Palma’s Passion, or: Le Gaspard de la Nuit”, an attempt at an analysis of that movie. What follows contains major SPOILERS for both Passion and Love Crime. The first appendix is “Brian De Palma’s Passion and Alain Corneau’s Love Crime: A Brief Style Comparison Part One”)

I’ve chosen the material for these comparisons because there is nothing inherently visual to it, nothing like a gunfight or a chase, making it very suitable for examining how one can take material that has the potential to be static or turgid, and make it dynamic. In both of these examples, characters are talking almost the entire time, the focus on the dialogue itself, and though the technique shown in Passion animates the material, at no time does it distract from it. The movement of the camera from an open space to a close-up of Dirk in the first example embodies the character’s freedom slowly slipping away as the evidence mounts that he defrauded the company and killed Christine, ending in his arrest. The technique is an extension of the material, not a betrayal of it.

The segment examined in this appendix – Christine revealing to Dirk that she knows of his fraud, Isabelle trying to contact Dirk, and Dirk then breaking up with Isabelle in the elevator – is ideal for comparison because in terms of the actual material, it is almost entirely the same in both movies – the only major differences are that the man Love Crime‘s triangle is named Phillippe, rather than Dirk, and the difference in Isabelle’s devoted assistant, Daniel in Crime and Dani in Passion. De Palma makes one smart, obvious change to make it more vibrant: he intercuts Christine and Dirk’s confrontation with that of Isabelle messaging Dirk. Dani is more passionate than Daniel, and so the viewer can see an interesting contrast in Isabelle’s disconnect with her outburst, as her thoughts remain centered on Dirk, and her concentration on Dirk’s own outburst. In the conference room, De Palma emphasizes Christine’s power visually, a head of rich blonde hair against a bright red blouse, and the sharp bladed metal cross, the red echoed in the corporate name in the boardroom. Christine embodies the corporation: she is all-powerful, she is gorgeous, she is frightening, she is lethal; the obvious and immediate focus of the room.

Both movies use the confined space of the elevator to convey Dirk and Phillippe’s lack of choices. Passion, however, emphasizes the effect by having Dirk move quickly through a wide open space before he reaches this small confined space. In the middle of Isabelle and Dirk’s argument, a group of other employees get on, their banal conversation having nothing like the passionate intensity of this couple, another effective juxtaposition, a reminder of the happy, untroubled life they once had. De Palma is often indicted as someone who focuses more on camerawork than his actors, yet this sequence works because the characters in the elevator scene, and the actors playing them, are more nuanced. Where Crime keeps the camera at the same angle for the whole scene, in Passion we move to intimate close-ups after the other employees leave, the intensity of the argument made greater by the proximity. Dirk’s angry reaction to Isabelle isn’t simply frustration at how Christine has treated him, it is an attempt by him to feel some power in this moment of powerlessness by dominating this woman. We see in Isabelle that she wants to help Dirk, that she feels something great for this man, something more sincere than what she feels for Christine, and yet when he turns on her, Isabelle’s reaction here is nowhere as static as the Isabelle of Love Crime. We see in Isabelle’s face her holding back her anger at the way Dirk is treating her, and we also see something else in her close up: how rare it is that she opens up to anyone (Christine: “I mean, we’ve been working together, what, eight months, and I don’t even know where you’re from”), and what a rare chance it was that she opened herself up to this man. We might guess from her reaction at the end of the scene that she avoids doing so because of moments like this, and we might guess that she has been hurt very badly in the past, and never wants it to happen again.

A comparison of the elevator section of these scenes is on youtube:

The accompanying dialogue is in the subtitles.

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Isabelle takes off Christine’s gift and throws it to the ground:

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As Dirk passes this corridor, Isabelle emerges and follows him to the elevator:

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(All images from the movie Passion copyright SBS Productions, Integral Film, France 2 Cinéma, and associated producers; images from the movie Love Crime copyright SBS Films, France 2 Cinéma, Divali Films, and associated producers.)

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