Femme Fatale


        Although his credits include such diverse offerings as the remake of Scarface,
The Untouchables,
and Mission: Impossible, director Brian De Palma has become best
known for a series of thrillers that often pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Both De Palma and
Hitchcock share a fascination with voyeurism and each shares a fetishism for blonde actresses.
Over the last 25 years, De Palma has fashioned numerous Hitchcockian dramas, ranging from
Carrie and Sisters through Dressed to Kill and Blow Out to Obsession and Body Double.
Now with his latest from Warner Bros.,
Femme Fatale, he's back to form, drawing as he often
has on
Vertigo for inspiration.

        Whereas Hitchcock employed humor and a subtle undercurrent of eroticism, De Palma
utilizes profanity, nudity and vulgarity in his oeuvre. Femme Fatale is no exception. The film
opens at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival with cameos by director Regis Wargnier (
East-West)
and actress Sandrine Bonnaire on the red carpet, accompanied by a model (Rie Rasmussen)
wearing only a not-so-strategically placed gold and diamond serpent on her torso. Posing as a
photographer, Laure (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) infiltrates the red carpet and entices the model
to the ladies' room, where the pair engage in steamy lesbian sex while Laure's accomplice
(Eriq Ebouaney)  switches the model's jewelry with fakes.

        Laure pulls a double cross and thanks to a case of mistaken identity, she's able to find
shelter. Assuming the identity of her doppelgänger, she takes a flight to America, meets a
businessman with political aspirations (Peter Coyote)   and begins her life anew. Seven years
pass, and Laure, now calling herself Lily, refuses to pose for photographs. When her husband
is appointed Ambassador to France, she must return to Paris, where intrepid paparazzo
Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) snaps her portrait and sells it to the tabloids, exposing her
to her former accomplices. Laure/Lily decides to turn the tables on Nicolas and what ensues
is very
noirish as well as occasionally very foolish. From the opening scene (in which Laure
watches
Double Indemnity on television), De Palma marries elements of film noir with
Hitchcockian touches. The result sometimes intrigues, sometimes strains incredulity. There's
a twist ending, that if one had paid close attention, one could have seen the hints.
Still, it's another trick in De Palma's arsenal (remember the surprise at the end of
Carrie?),
but it works effectively.

        Under the circumstances, the actors manage to acquit themselves as well as can be
expected. Banderas has elevated any number of lesser vehicles that have wasted his talents.
Here he trades on his innate charms and smoldering screen presence. It hardly ranks as his
best effort, but it's not his worst either (see
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, for example).
Romijn-Stamos (
X-Men) hasn't really struck me as much of an actress, but she manages
to create separate characterizations well. Displaying her assets, she injects the film with erotic
tension. Her performance drives the movie and she looks fantastic in her costumes, including
one white number that recalls both Lana Turner in
The Postman Always Rings Twice and
Sharon Stone in
Basic Instinct.

        The supporting characters have less to do, with the standouts being Eriq Ebouaney (so
dynamic in the title role of
Lumumba) as the chief villain, and Peter Coyote, as the
ambassador. The technical credits are all topnotch, with special kudos to the expert
cinematography of Thierry Arbogast, Bill Pankow's editing, and Ryuichi Sakamoto's Ravel-like
score.


                         
Rating:                            C -
                         
MPAA rating:                 R for strong sexuality, violence and language
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.