Scopophilia is Greek for 'love of looking;' Brian DePalma, like Dario Argento and Hitchcock is always looking. And so are his characters. In the opening of 'Femme Fatale' (2002), Laure is watching Billy Wilder's 'Double Indemnity' (1944). She and her 'gang' are about to steal a fortune in diamonds at the Cannes Film Festival, from the girlfriend of film director Regis Wargnier (playing himself, his film played Cannes that year). The plan is for Laure to successfully seduce her in the bathroom stall while Wargnier's 'East-West' plays on the big screen. Now, it strikes me that as 'meticulous' as the plan sounds, it is really fraught with potential failure! Will Laure's seduction happen on cue? Will security take a leak on cue? (The last five minutes of the film make you realise the seduction was a dead certainty ). What saves it is the bravura filmmaking. The heist shows a technical wizardry that reminded me of the best bits of DePalma's 'Mission: Impossible' (1996).
He has made remarkable use of the split-screen technique before, but never has it been so self-reflexively and personally deployed as it is here. To slowly introduce the technique, during the heist he uses 'natural' screen dividers, such as toilet stall walls, to divide the screen. This results in later, when he actually does split the screen that the divide doesn't seem so gimmicky or jarring. Twenty minutes in and the blonde Laure has performed a double cross. We then cut to a rainy day as Nicolas watches from up high on his balcony; he is a photographer (Laure was impersonating a photographer at the heist), and he snaps Laure who has donned a dark wig, and will in more than one way become Lily. About half an hour into the film DePalma begins to caress, or is it 'lull' us with running water, ticking clocks, Pino Donnagio music (but by Ryuichi Sakamoto), and then a sudden crack of thunder sends us the message that 'something else' is going on here as Laure is in the bath at Lily's parents' house and in walks 'Lily,' upset and crying on the day of her funeral, the overflowing fish tank is a big clue
As Roger Ebert correctly assesses; "This is a movie about watching and being watched, about seeing and not knowing what you see."
Seven years after the heist, (so therefore, based on when the film was released, we are now in the future!), Laure unwillingly returns to Paris; she is 'Lily' and married to the American ambassador. The "Déjà Vu 2008" poster that decorates a telephone booth outside Nicolas' apartment may seem like a simple wink to the audience, but the use of the painting "Ophelia" (1852), by John Everett Millais, in the poster points to Laure's trouble with water. In Argento's own 'Trauma' (1993), and Argento fan Chang Youn-hyun's film 'Tell Me Something' (1999), the Millais painting is used as similar visual shorthand. And mentioning Argento, DePalma again uses the surprise reveal from Argento's 'Tenebre.'
A classic 'femme fatale,' Laure packs a gun and uses her awareness of men to devour them and spit them out. She turns very nasty in the scene on the bridge, and Nicolas becomes acutely aware of her intentions. The film becomes very dark indeed, with them going to a bar not dissimilar to 'One Eyed Jacks' in David Lynch's 'Fire Walk With Me' (1992), where all the patrons are men wearing black; apparently not a gay bar, but more a nest of thieves. In the climax on the bridge, Laure is thrown in the river, having finally been tracked down by her double crossed cohorts; but look, once she is in the water she is nude, born again, she has a second chance.
Arguably the most personal film DePalma has made since 'Body Double', 'Femme Fatale' is nowhere near as dark a film (the Argento within is harder to find, but it is there with an outsider investigating, seeing and not seeing). It comes complete with a typically frustrating DePalma denouement
I suppose he is allowed to use dream sequences, Aeschylus' invented them in 'The Persians' in 472 BC.
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