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Femme Fatale (2002) starstarstarstar

Reviewed 2001-11-10: I couldn't take my eyes off those snakes. That's pretty much all French model Rie was wearing as a blouse in the tense opening sequence of Brian De Palma's excellent Femme Fatale. Yes, I have the normal male reaction to a girl-girl seduction scene, though my guilt in this visual pleasure was somewhat assuaged by the integrality of the scene to the plot: Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) plots with her partners Black Tie (Eriq Ebouaney) and Racine (Edouard Montoute) to heist Veronica's (Rie Rasmussen) diamond-studded snakewear and replace it with fake duplicates at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. (Oh, yes, the rest of Rie was real!) But this intricately plotted caper doesn't go as planned: security interrupts the crime, Black Tie is near-fatally wounded, and Laure walks off with the loot.

Nick (Banderas) and
Laure (Romijn-Stamos)
He's in way too deep!
But if you think that's the end of it, De Palma has a few more tricks and plot twists in store for you. Making her getaway in a brunette wig, Laure is photographed by paparazzo Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas), forcing her to take refuge in a church -- where she is mistaken for a grieving widow, her double-crossed partners toss her through a glass roof, and she ends up taking the identity and plane ticket to the US of a suicide... Oh there's more: seven years later Laure returns, unwillingly, to Paris, as the wife of new US Ambassador Watts (Peter Coyote), and is photographed yet again by Bardo... revealing her identity to those who know her past. Then Femme Fatale gets really interesting!

Rie Rasmussen and
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
About those snakes...
Without spoiling any more surprises (and I haven't, really), suffice it to say that the plot turns back on itself, but it makes a lot more sense than Mulholland Dr. (which was impenetrable), and even more fun. De Palma obviously takes the slogan seriously: "Ars Gratia Artis" -- "Art for Art's Sake" -- and he is generous enough to enfold us in that passion. As for the characters, Banderas is suitably sleazy, as a paparazzo has to be, but is surprisingly principled all the same. Coyote's role was pretty much utilitarian; Ebouaney and Montoute, as well. Rie doesn't even speak: she doesn't need to. However, the film belongs to its female lead, who is known chiefly as a (way too thin) supermodel. I liked Romijn-Stamos a lot more, and actually cared about her character(s), toward the end of the film: I'm not sure she can act, but she is sexy and she moves well, so maybe it doesn't matter.

What does matter is the cleverness of the script (written by De Palma), the deftness of the acting, and the excellence of the cinematography (Thierry Arbogast, who was cinematographer for The Professional). That and De Palma's obvious love for beautiful women, which I share (I'm still thinking about those snakes), make Femme Fatale one film magnifique!

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.