By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Brian De Palma‘s Femme Fatale is a rogue-female-empowerment fantasy as exhilarating as Angela Carter’s ”The Company of Wolves“ (the story, not Neil Jordan‘s movie). Never read it? Sorry, but it’s still slim pickings in the female-empowerment department, and I‘m hard-pressed for a more populist analogy.
De Palma’s best movie since Carrie is also an allegory about its own making, specifically about a filmmaker learning that you bring trouble on yourself when you try to be someone you‘re not. De Palma had to put an ocean between himself and Hollywood -- Femme Fatale was conceived in Paris, where De Palma has lived for more than two years -- to rediscover his talent and his joy in directing movies.
”In the 40 years I’ve been making movies,“ he says, ”something catastrophic has happened about every 10 years. I don‘t know exactly what goes wrong, but wherever I am seems not the place to be. So I basically pick myself up and go somewhere else.“
It’s September, once the most pleasurable month to be in New York, now shadowed by 911, which just happens to be De Palma‘s birthday. For the moment, he’s back in the apartment he bought in the early 1980s (Greenwich Village, cozy duplex, pre-war bldg, high-fl, great view). Except that his beard and hair are now totally gray and his back twinges when he gets up from his chair, De Palma seems not to have aged much in the past two decades. The first thing you notice about him is his gaze, which is both alert and impassive -- like a cat‘s gaze, and like a cat, he gathers information through his eyes.
”It was February 28, 2000, two weeks before Mission to Mars opened. My brother was here with me, and I said, ’You and I are either going to get in a car and take a sentimental trip across the country and visit all the people we haven‘t seen in years, or I’m going to get on a plane to Paris.‘ Then I literally flipped a coin, and it came up Paris. I got on a plane and was there the next morning.“
In Paris, De Palma hung out with old friends, explored the city on foot and on his motor scooter, and looked at movies. Paris is still a cineaste’s paradise -- there‘s a film festival almost every week. It’s also a city that welcomes eccentricity, and De Palma -- in his work and his being --is ever the world-class eccentric. (Consider the image of the 60-ish Brian De Palma in his safari jacket on a motor scooter.) And ever the fool for beauty. (”There‘s nothing more beautiful than Paris,“ Chris Marker once said, ”except the memory of it.“)
After a few weeks of living the life of a flaneur, De Palma got an idea for a movie about a double-crossing femme fatale who’s involved in a big heist. She runs off with the money and the jewels and, to avoid her pursuers, tries on a change of identity. He began to think of Belleville, the hip, heterogeneous neighborhood that reminded him of bohemian Greenwich Village circa 1960, as a major location.
”You don‘t have that wealth thing in Paris that changes everything for artists,“ he says, ”that sends them into the superstratosphere.“ De Palma enjoys living well, and he knows how to cut a deal (Femme Fatale cost $30 million, and the director’s fee was likely around $5 million), but the slander going around some European film circles that he did it strictly for the money is absurd. Not only is Femme Fatale one of the director‘s most personal films, it’s also among the most intricately and painstakingly constructed. Had De Palma been in it for the money, he would have delivered a straight-ahead heist movie that could have earned him big back-end bucks, not an art-and-exploitation ballet that snakes around like Ravel‘s Bolero and revels in deja vu. (The opening caper is, in fact, scored to Bolero.) The narrative has a surprise twist that I feel obliged not to give away, which is a pity because De Palma’s description of how he hid the clues in plain sight reveals the skill and subtlety of his filmmaking:
”It‘s a hard thing to pull off, because no matter what you do, some people will resent being tricked. But others will want to go back again to make all these connections they didn’t see before. For me, the film works on such an interesting subconscious level that I still keep seeing connections I never consciously mapped out. People think I get these ideas from other movies or from books, but really, they‘re things that happen to me. The opening heist scene in Femme Fatale was originally going to take place on a casino boat, but they don’t have casino boats in Europe. Then Mission to Mars was shown in Cannes [in May 2000], and I walked up the red carpet with my girlfriend, and we were surrounded by these bodyguards because she was wearing all this borrowed jewelry and the store sends a bodyguard for every half-million dollars‘ worth. So that’s how the idea of shooting the heist right there in the Palais happened.“
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