Under the skin (and there is so much of it), Femme Fatale is mostly brains with a little fun on top. The movie begins at the Cannes Film Festival in France. A supermodel is donning a gown made of diamonds worth $10 million. Laure is a photographer who gets into the festival and lures the model into the bathroom where she begins to, well; seduce her. During a long and elaborated scene, we see the two women passionately kissing and feeling each other up and down. While all this is going on, Laure strategically removes the diamond-covered outfit and replaces it with a phony suit made of glass. She has several accomplices aiding her in the plot, and eventually security shows up to the distress call. Laure escapes with the diamonds leaving her fellow companions behind to be caught.
The unique directing of Brian De Palma shows the above mentioned scene and a few others with almost no dialogue. De Palma's film isn't about words, but action. That is why there is so little conversation. I now find myself in a perplexing situation because I don't want to reveal any more of the story.
As fate has it, Laure is mistaken for a grieving widow and taken home by her parents. Before she was found, she was knocked unconscious after a terrible fall, and then wakes up in home where her parents have just left. She finds herself in possession of an airplane ticket to New York and a passport with a photo that looks exactly like her. It looks so much like her, that the couple who brought her home actually thought she was their daughter. This all takes place in 2001, then the movie jumps seven years into the future to show the effect of Laure's ultimate plan.
The other main character is Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas). No, he's not a special agent for a three letter government organization. No, he's not a heavy-weight boxer. Nicolas is a papa-razzo freelance photographer. He has taken a photograph of Laurie in the year 2001 on the day she is mistaken for the widow, and photographs her again seven years later when she returns to Paris as the wife of the American ambassador (Peter Coyote). Because Laure lives a fake life, and knows that her one time partners in crime will seek revenge against her if caught, she does not allow herself to be photographed. Now that Nicolas has taken a picture of her, she is determined to get it back. She also has something else up her sleeve, but you don't expect me to say what that is, do you?
If I learned one thing regarding De Palma's style, it is that he is not afraid to show sexuality on screen. Not necessarily via nudity, rather the imagination after being stimulated. He does succeed in exploiting the body of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, who at one point delivers a strip tease to a lucky individual. Again, this is done through choreography, not nudity. At first, I did not like Stamos or her character. She wasn't spectacular, and you can even argue that she's not a very good actress. But she works in this film. She accomplishes what she needs to do, and in a glorious fashion. Her job as a con-artist requires her to distract her victims by any means, and that often results in seduction and deception.
De Palma's elaboration of up-close body camera shots doesn't fit in the mainstream well, so I can understand where the negative energy is coming from. But it isn't as gratuitous as many people believe it to be. De Palma had to show how powerful lust is, and he did. Laure doesn't seduce men for fun, but because it allows her to complete her objectives. She's a sly serpent that can throw anybody into a trance using little effort.
The opening scene where she is making out with a supermodel is a bit much; I will admit that. But at the same time, the craftsmanship deserves so much more praise than what it is getting. I haven't seen a movie that overlooks spoken words as much as "Femme Fatale" does. De Palma uses a split screen technique that utilizes two cameras to show one scene, but from two different angles, all at the same time. This technique is often done on the FOX television show, 24. You are forced to look at what the people are doing and to examine their actions and expressions.
In addition to the bold style in which the movie is filmed, the scenery is dazzling. One scene that comes to mind is a plunge Laure takes into a body of water all in slow motion. There is much to take in, and that is how it is supposed to be enjoyed. It lacks on the thrill side, as there is very little suspense. It's a mystery, but there are few questions you'll want answers to. De Palma tells us what we need to know, and only at the right time.
The story is well written, interesting, and the plot twist during the climax is explained thoroughly. My advice to you on whether or not you should see this movie, is to read not just the negative reviews, but what the negative in those reviews focus on. If you're squeamish and you feel uncomfortable watching something that is so provocative, then stay away. But there is so much to appreciate about this movie. Seeing Banderas without a cape on or an Uzi in his hand was something new and exciting for me. In this one, he's an average guy; who although still thinks he's slick like all of Bandera's characters- he manages to get sucked up into Laure's game of deception and greed. There's nothing wrong with a little guilty pleasure, especially when it's coming from a movie as intelligent and witty as Femme Fatale.
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