English, English - Hearing Impaired, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
2 Theatrical trailer - US & French
4 Featurette - 40 min total
Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 110 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
"Give me the other half of my headphones or I'll reformat your mouth in 16:9"
So you thought director Brian De Palma had reinvented his filmmaking career and turned, overnight, into a purveyor of Hollywood blockbusters and ill-conceived crowd-pleasers with the triumvirate of Mission Impossible, Snake Eyes and Mission to Mars. Yep, so did we. The man who could once be relied upon for flamboyant homages to Hitchcock full of ingenious camera setups, double-crossing chanteuses, sex, murder and unexpected humour suddenly seemed to have become distracted by the lure of the box office. Okay, you can’t blame the man for wanting to branch out into different genres and maybe score a success of two in the process, but De Palma’s specialty is his own unique little basement apartment in that big old building named “Film Noir”. So many modern directors espouse their love of all things Hitchcock and the golden days of mystery cinema, but few of them can translate that fandom into something as intensely original, extravagant and fun as De Palma’s best work. Dressed to Kill, Body Double, Blow Out, Obsession, Scarface - and of course the hugely successful crime-noir of The Untouchables - are bravura expressions of pure filmmaking from top to bottom, and while De Palma’s way of making movies doesn’t appeal to everyone, it’s passionately appreciated by those who click with it.
So it was welcome news to hear of Femme Fatale, a return for De Palma to the genre he’s most famous for. Even better, this one comes not from a major Hollywood studio, but instead was paid for by an independent production company and shot entirely in France, where it’s set. No audience-test reshoots or last-minute reworked endings here; this time, De Palma was left alone to do his De Palma thing, and the results speak for themselves.
Running away, done the ultra-stylish French way.
As the film opens, we’re at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, and a jewel heist is about to go down. Posing as a photographer, Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) leads a carefully-prepared team of thieves who’ve infiltrated the cinema where a premiere is taking place. The target is a $10 million diamond creation that’s barely covering model Veronica (Rie Rasmussen), and it’s Laure’s job to get it off her by any means necessary. Needless to say, the heist doesn’t quite go according to plan, and before long Laure is on the run from a bunch of very, very angry co-conspirators. But perhaps luck is on her side: she stumbles into a situation that gives her the perfect “out”, a way of changing her identity and getting out of France. And if it ended there, Laure would be a free, happy and rich woman. But it’s not over, not by a long way; in fact, it’s only the beginning.
"If only I could find a sex shop..."
Loaded with unexpected plot twists, Femme Fatale is a mystery thriller that is best experienced when you know as little about it as possible. The plot we’ve outlined above barely scratches the surface of what happens, and that’s the way it should be. Suffice to say that De Palma, who wrote this winningly clever and cunning screenplay, has some surprises up his sleeve - as well as some seriously strange characters and scenarios. Everyone appears to be having a blast making this one; even Antonio Banderas, normally so determinedly serious on screen, takes a little time out to be winningly silly in his role as a one-time paparazzi. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos might not be the world’s most accomplished actor - though she’s perfect for this role - but bravura acting’s not the point here anyway. De Palma’s intention is to weave his tale using visuals as the primary medium, and in fact there are large sections of the film (especially towards the beginning) where there’s very little dialogue going on at all.
The overall atmosphere of Femme Fatale, along with the playfully exploitative attitude to sexuality and sensuality, reminds this reviewer strongly of Roman Polanski’s underrated Bitter Moon (coincidentally, American actor Peter Coyote appears in both), and that’s not at all a bad thing. An absolute treat for fans of filmmaking craft that almost demands repeated viewings, and a rollicking good time for everyone else, Femme Fatale sees Brian De Palma back in top gear and on top form.
"Glurbbble blllb glug splubbl."
Proving they can still pull a brilliant transfer out of their bag of often-NTSC tricks when they wanna, Warner delivers a terrific video transfer for Femme Fatale. Presented at the full 16:9 ratio of 1.78:1 (and in this case, most likely slightly cropped at the sides rather than open-matted, the in-viewfinder scenes giving the game away there), this anamorphically-enhanced transfer looks exactly right for the subject matter. A little more restrained in the colour saturation department compared to the day-glo transfers we often see of modern movies, this carefully-balanced picture captures the look and feel of the French locations perfectly, and complements the mood of the film. Not that there isn’t ample colour saturation when it’s needed, of course - just look at the pool-room scene late in the film for an example.
Detail is flawless throughout, the film source used is spotless and while there’s a touch of edge enhancement going on, it’s never intrusive. Encoded at a generous bitrate on a dual-layered disc that along with the extras is packed to the brim, the movie is interrupted only marginally by a well-placed layer change (like many Warner-authored changes, it’s at the end of a scene rather than the start of one).
The English-language subtitles that are frequently used throughout (when characters speak in their native French) are part of the main video stream, rather than being supplied as player-generated subtitles. They’ve clear, very large and reasonably well done, though there’s one spelling mistake (go on, try and find it!) and a few too many Americanisms in the translation.
Shadow boxing as entertainment.
The single Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack here contains the movie’s theatrical audio and is flawless, providing a very natural surround sound-world for the events of the story. Dialogue is sharp and clear, the wonderful music score (by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who scored De Palma’s Snake Eyes and is still best remembered for his score for, and performance in, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence) is full and enticing, and the surrounds and subwoofer are intelligently used to create atmosphere on an almost constant basis. The sound’s almost as important as the picture in conveying the mood and intentions of this film, so be sure to play it nice and loud…!
Alas, there’s no De Palma commentary to be found here. But Warner hasn’t left fans of Femme Fatale out in the cold, despite the film not being much of a success commercially. A small but welcome set of extra material helps shed light on the film and its creation, but be warned - if you haven’t seen the film yet, do not watch any of the extras until you have!
Featurettes: There are three items here, able to be played as a single program and running a total of 37 minutes. The first is Visualising Femme Fatale, which looks at how the film came to be conceived and how De Palma went about casting and shooting it. This 11-minute overview isn’t bad, but it’s the 24-minute An Appreciation that’s the real deal here. This goes into the elements and structure of the film in some detail, and is amply illustrated with excerpts from it - something that’s usually a cop-out, but which in this case is both necessary and welcome. This excellent featurette was produced by Laurent Bouzereau, who’s done the documentaries on most of Spielberg’s DVDs as well as a couple of De Palma’s. Appropriately, he’s also French! Finally there’s Dressed to Kill, a brief montage of nothing much.
Behind the Scenes: The standard generic EPK-style promo reel, completely superfluous after the above featurettes.
Trailers: Two theatrical trailers - the US and French efforts. And they’re very different, too. The US trailer sells the film as you’d expect for that market, completely missing the point of the film and giving far too much away at the same time, via the clichéd use of quick cuts and BIG… WORDS… FLASHING… UP… AT… YOU… VERY… FAST!!! The French trailer, meanwhile, takes a different approach, by playing the entire movie at hyper-speed, slowing down for the odd highlight. Yep, the entire movie, ending and all. It’s a very funny effort, especially with the tagline.
"Err, Laure - please tell me I didn't forget something when I got changed..."
One of those pleasant-surprise movies that you go into with low (or no) expectations, only to find yourself coming out the other end with a big smile on your face and a new entry in your favourite-DVDs list for the year. If you like De Palma’s own special brand of intrigue, sex and silliness, you’ll already have this on your shopping list. But the sheer filmmaking bravado and playful sense of fun throughout make Femme Fatale a film everyone with a fondness for the mystery-thriller genre should relish.