Femme Fatale Review
Given that Femme Fatale has not yet been given a cinema release in the UK, the DVD reviews have become all the more pertinent and, in addition to this review, Mike Sutton has already reviewed the Region 1 release for DVD Times here.
Femme Fatale opens with the replaying of an old black-and-white film noir on a television on which is reflected the image of a young woman lying on a bed beneath a sheet. As the opening minutes pass, this woman, who is later identified as Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), dresses, allows a jewel thief, known only as Black Tie (Eriq Ebouaney) into her room and is violently instructed of her part in the heist that is to follow. Laure leaves the room, takes up her place as a press photographer on the red carpet and awaits the arrival of Veronica (Rie Rasmussen), the star of a new film by director Regis Wargnier and who is wearing a jewelled bustier with accessories worth $10m.
Laure whispers a sexual advance to Veronica and both ladies enter the bathroom, in which Laure removes, piece by piece, the jewellery worn by Veronica, replacing it with replica pieces handed to her by Black Tie. Unfortunately for the thieves, security arrive on the scene but as the power cuts out, Laure leaves with the jewellery as Black Tie is hit by a bullet from a security guard's gun. Laure leaves Cannes and disappears into a new life in Paris. Despite taking every precaution to remain hidden over the next seven years, she sees an ex-paparazzi taking her photograph from his rooftop flat prior to hearing about the release of Black Tie from prison.
As Laure is about to find out, the world can appear to be an increasingly small place to hide when someone wants you to be found...
Femme Fatale makes it perfectly clear within the opening few minutes that after de Palma's stumble with Mission To Mars, he is firmly back at doing what he is most capable of - complex yet playful thrillers tipsy with sexuality and their own sense of the unexpected. If you leave a viewing of Femme Fatale unsure of the film's logic, don't be at all surprised. In fact, be pleasantly assured by the knowledge that you've watched a hugely entertaining film by a director clearly having a ball for, unlike many of his contemporaries who continue working with all the plodding ambition of a young man forced to leave the playground with the promise of a proper job, de Palma wickedly continues his habit of making the kind of movies his sixteen-year-old self would have congratulated him on. Such encouragement seems to drive de Palma to produce his best work and Femme Fatale is amongst his very best movies.
Interestingly, de Palma plays such an incredible part in the making of his films that it is often his personality that sits centre-square within the frames of the film than that of the actors. Small wonder then, that despite the many A-list actors he has used throughout the years, they appear rather anonymous when placed in a de Palma film. The use of the Euro-friendly Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, who is known in the US, is, therefore, not a surprise, being initially little more than an attractive if shallow presence onscreen onto which the director can impress a fantasy that appears superficially tawdry. As Romijn-Stamos wanders off the red carpet on Le Croisette at Cannes and into the cinema to whisper a come-on into Veronica's ear before entering the restroom, in which one lady seduces the other whilst removing her jewellery in a sexually confident manner, there is the sense that with a man less capable than de Palma behind the camera, the director would now be frantically rubbing his thighs and leering into the viewfinder. That de Palma uses the glossy eroticism of this scene to hide the first sign that this thriller will be so much more than a piece of glossy, soft Europorn is not wholly surprising. That he does so in such an outrageously obvious fashion that still goes unnoticed is a testament to the wit of the director. In the hands of an everyday hack, such an event would be sign posted in beaming neon; here it's a Mediterranean shrug, a note of insouciance and on with the action.
It is this final note that provides a clue as to the origins of the film, being so much closer to a European thriller than one from the US that it recalls the sexual thrill of the best of Bertrand Blier, which is high praise indeed, or the stylish twists of La Balance, itself made by an American (Bob Swaim) in Paris. Indeed, de Palma has always been rather more of a Europhile than many of his fellow directors, showing a love for sharp European thrillers that his peers only pay lip service to. That he is unafraid of using as many stylistic tricks as is felt necessary adds to this impression, employing split screens, tracking shots and heated voyeurism, gives Femme Fatale the feeling of being so much closer to a French re-imagining of stateside pulp thrillers than the lifeless drag of much of Hollywood's output these days.
Regarding the cast, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is a revelation here, having only seen her once before, nude for a coat of blue body paint and some strategically placed prosthetics, in X-Men. Given the opportunity to drag Laure Ash out of a reflection in a television screen and into being as a self-professed bad girl, Romijn-Stamos takes on the role with some degree of pleasure, her eyes glinting as Laure's actions grow to be ever more outrageous yet perfectly in keeping with the tone set by the rest of the movie. Banderas is clearly enjoying himself having been given more of an opportunity to fool with his own image than he has been in years, playing with a kind of charm unseen since he put away Zorro's sword, mask and cape. Despite the presence of others, some recognisable, some not, it is Romijn-Stamos and Banderas who you will remember most, strutting around each other, one taking the lead, then the other, before closing the movie at a distance.
Femme Fatale has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and looks terrific. The transfer is richly detailed, able to replicate de Palma's use of colour, contrast and depth, within which lie the details that hold the heart of the film, openly discussed by the director in one of the extras on the disc.
As expected, Femme Fatale is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 but, given that it's a rather dialogue-heavy Euro-thriller, the rear speakers offer little but ambient sound effects. Otherwise, the soundtrack is faultless - absent of any noise with a wide dynamic range and flawless sound direction.
Femme Fatale has been made available with a fair number of extras on this single-disc release:
Visualising Femme Fatale (11m24s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Despite the title, there is very little in this bonus feature regarding the cinematography, art design or direction, being more concerned with the acting, structure of the plot and de Palma's development ofthe story. Do not, however, watch this before the main feature as so much is given away here as to leave few surprises for the viewer. This feature is subtitled in English.
Femme Fatale - An Appreciation (23m44s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): One actually suspects that this extra and the preceeding one are cued off the menu in the wrong order as this has rather more to do with the process of visualising Femme Fatale than simply offering an appreciation. As a result, de Palma and the Director of Photography are featured rather heavily discussing the locations, direction, design and eventual shooting of the film. Once again, do not watch this prior to the main feature as most of the story is given away. As before, this feature is subtitled in English.
Femme Fatale - Dressed To Kill (1m51s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is an awfully slight feature mixing still images of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos with footage from the film showing how her appearance changes throughout. Once again, this feature is subtitled in English.
Behind The Scenes (4m41s, 1.33:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This offers little more than on-the-set footage intercut with interviews with Antonio Banderas, de Palma and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos describing the plot ofthe movie.
Theatrical Trailer (2m15s, 1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a series of highlights from the main feature that captures the visual gloss of the film as stylishly as possible given the format.
French Trailer (2m05s, 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Offering a different take on the art of the trailer, this effectively plays the entire film in fast-forward before ending with the line, "You've just watched Brian de Palma's new film...you didn't get it?" Unlike two of the other bonus features, however, little is given away here.
You may be of the opinion that this sounds suspiciously like a bad thriller, the like of which turn up dubbed into English at 3AM on a commercial television station. If we're being completely truthful, that's not as ridiculous as it might sound. Despite protestations to the contrary throughout this review, the title of the film, the DVD cover, the entire plot and the casting of an actress unafraid to show some skin all add to the impression that this is the kind of stuff that the shelves of video stores once laboured under during the eighties. That Femme Fatale failed to secure a cinema release in the UK, heading straight to video and DVD ought not to be a complete surprise given all of the above.
Yet...there is always the sense that de Palma knows all of this and is simply making something for his fans who are undoubtedly going to see all that they enjoy most about his work contained in this one movie. Admittedly, I'm no fan of de Palma's work but it's possible to understand his method here and to simply enjoy the film for what it is. Straight to video nonsense it may be but it's made with such an assured understanding of what is required of it that Femme Fatale is simply a cracking piece of entertainment.
Does it make sense? No, not entirely. Does it matter? Again, not entirely...it's the kind of stuff de Palma has made his own and those who preferred his outrageously tricky take on Mission: Impossible to John Woo's sequel will understand why this is an enormously fun piece of filmmaking that can be enjoyed more than once.
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