As an example of how to convey information with a minimum of dialogue, this movie is absolutely outstanding. Its plot unfolds so naturally and gracefully across the screen that, as well as telling its tale with great efficiency, it also creates a wonderfully hypnotic atmosphere. Its story about a well-planned diamond heist involves double-crosses, blackmail and revenge as well as some reflections on the level to which individuals are able to control their own destinies and interestingly, it also includes a number of Hitchcockian influences such as voyeurism, doubles, confused identities and the disguise motif.
Stylistically, the emphasis is on presenting the action with the kind of deliberate pace and fluid camera-work that together contribute so strongly to the dreamlike mood of the piece. This, in turn, makes some of the plot's stranger coincidences, apparently illogical developments and moments of deja vu seem far less incongruous than would have been the case, if they'd have been seen in a more conventionally-filmed movie.
During the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, Laure Ash (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) has a key role to play in a heist that's been planned by her gang-leader, Black Tie (Eriq Ebouaney) and posing as a press photographer at one of the premieres, sees a model called Veronica (Rie Rasmussen) who attracts a lot of attention because of the very revealing gold, serpent-shaped, diamond-encrusted piece of body jewellery that she's wearing. When Laure and Veronica meet in the ladies' room immediately before the movie's due to be screened, Laure is seen apparently seducing the model and during their encounter, removes the various pieces of Veronica's body-jewellery and drops them to the floor. Black Tie, who's hidden in the adjacent cubicle, then systematically swaps each piece for a fake replica in readiness for making off with the loot which is valued at $10,000,000. Things don't go so smoothly from this point on and culminate in Laure double-crossing her partners-in-crime and escaping to Paris with the stolen jewellery.
In Paris, Laure is mistaken for a missing woman called Lily, who looks identical to her and so, after stealing her double's passport and plane ticket to New York, Laure takes the opportunity to escape to a new life in America. During the flight, she meets a wealthy businessman who she subsequently marries. Seven years later, when her husband, Bruce Hewitt Watts (Peter Coyote) is appointed as the American ambassador to France, Laure reluctantly has to return to Paris (coincidentally at the same time as Black Tie is released from prison). After a period during which she's able to keep a low profile, her cover is suddenly blown after freelance photographer, Nicholas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) takes a photograph of her which then appears in numerous publications and puts her life in danger because her fellow gang-members are out for revenge.
The surreal series of events that follow illustrate further just how evil and manipulative Laure is and produce a dizzying succession of twists and turns that lead to the movie's entertaining and highly unpredictable conclusion. Intriguingly, during this part of the movie, it also becomes apparent that a number of things that had happened earlier, were not actually what they'd appeared to be.
Brian De Palma's "Femme Fatale" is an immensely absorbing mystery thriller that features a woman whose characteristics are typical of the noir archetype and readily admits that she's "a bad girl, real bad - rotten to the heart". Rebecca Romjin-Stamos hits all the right notes as both Laure and Lily and Antonio Banderas is charming and humorous as her victim. The real star of the show, however, is the camera. The ways in which split-screen techniques, tracking shots and overhead camera angles cover the action are totally breathtaking and clearly the work of a filmmaker who fully understands and is inspired by, all the possibilities of cinema as a visual medium.
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