Femme Fatale (2002)

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Released 11-Jun-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Visualizing Femme Fatale
Featurette-Femme Fatale: An Appreciation
Featurette-Femme Fatale: Dressed To Kill
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer-2
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 109:52 (Case: 114)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:31) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Brian De Palma
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Antonio Banderas
Peter Coyote
Edouard Montoute
Rie Rasmussan
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Ryuichi Sakamoto


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The short version of this review:  I think I'm in love. In fact, I am in love. 5 stars. Can I be excused now?....

    ...You're still here? OK, if you want a longer and (slightly) more serious version of the review, then please read on.... But please tell me you don't really want a plot synopsis, do you? Instead, have I mentioned that the video and audio transfers on this DVD are really really cool? Have I mentioned yet that the film stars the stunning Rebecca Romijn-Stamos? Have we spoken about the extras on the disc yet? Can't we just go straight on to them? Oh well, alright then, if you still insist on some sort of plot synopsis then here it is.....

    Femme Fatale is, very unfortunately, not only a bit of a disappointment as a finished film, but also a bit of a tease. It is stylistic and a technical achievement as a piece of celluloid, yes. But on the viewer-satisfaction scale it is a film that sets up and promises so much and then delivers only a bit of it. Promoted as a "sexy spellbinder", the film tries to cover much ground and can't decide whether it wants to be film noir, mystery thriller, erotic thriller, or just straight erotic. Consequently it touches on all of this ground but doesn't really settle in comfortably with any of it. It also tries to be just that bit too clever with the plot, as the director's intention was, admirably enough, to try to elevate this film into something intellectual and therefore more than just titillation. It pains me as a Brian De Palma fan to say this, but unfortunately I don't think he succeeded. But hey, did I mention yet that the film stars the breathtaking Rebecca Romijn-Stamos? Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is best known to date for her role as Mystique in the X-Men films, plus a cameo in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and a role in, ahem, Rollerball (2002). She definitely suits this new role. And she even drags her "friend" supermodel, Rie Rasmussan, into the film to play "opposite her" for a crucial role too. .....Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?.....

     The idea for Femme Fatale came to Brian De Palma when he was arriving at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago with a film in competition. Walking the red carpet, and with his date all dressed up with her jewellery and the paparazzi cameras flashing away like mad, his mind started to turn to the idea of a story concept starting with this setting of extreme glamour and beauty and the idea of a jewellery heist taking place right under the spotlight of all the attention these beautiful people attract. The idea of a femme fatale character conducting this jewellery heist came to his mind, and so the story began to ferment. Of course, this story setting would require beautiful people to star in the roles in order to carry it off, most particularly so for the lead role. And not just any old attractive actress would do either, as De Palma reasoned that the lead role would in fact require someone incredibly attractive, i.e. someone fresh, someone drop-dead gorgeous, someone to literally take your breath away - a supermodel perhaps? .....Aha, yes, we're right there with you so far Brian, keep going..... And so the basis for the style and mood of De Palma's next film was born.

    As the director readily admits in the featurette extras on this disc, the idea of doing a film noir appealed to him greatly, as this was one film genre that his extensive career had somehow not seemed to cover properly. Once deciding on the femme fatale central character concept, this set in place a series of decisions necessary to drive and realise the story. First there was the casting decision, and after conducting a long and exhaustive search of supermodels to try out for the role (and we can rest assured in the interests of artistic integrity that it would I'm sure have been an exhaustive search), he finally came upon the stunning Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Now here was a lady who could not only comfortably meet all of Brian's De Palma's aforementioned strict criteria necessary to have even a chance of carrying off the lead role, but also someone who could surprisingly act, and act well. No, seriously.

    But now the wrinkles start to come in. Brian De Palma has written a story that is deliberately complex and convoluted. Our leading lady takes on several different disguises and roles in this film and the director wants us to question who she really is. Is she really Laure, the jewellery thief masquerading as a paparazzi photographer who double-crosses her gang and escapes with the jewels?, or a young Parisian lady whose husband and child have been killed in a car accident?, or Lily, the wife of an American ambassador? It is very hard to summarise this overly complex plot. The Internet Movie Data Base has a d*** good stab at it - better than I could do - as follows:  "International con artist/thief Laure Ash helps pull off a diamond robbery in Cannes during the annual film festival. She double-crosses her partners-in-crime and makes off with the diamonds to Paris where she accidentally assumes the identity of a distraught woman who commits suicide and then leaves the country. Seven years later, Laure (now called Lily Watts) re-surfaces as the wife of the new American ambassador to France where a certain Nicolas Barto, a Spanish photographer, takes her picture which sets the stage for a motion of events as the evil Laure resorts to low, underhanded means to protect her former identity by emotionally and financially destroying Nicolas while evading her former partners-in-crime still looking for her to reclaim the stolen diamonds."  Have you got all that? Good.

    Without saying too much more, as to do so would spoil the plot, the main problem with this film is Brian De Palma's use of a certain story device that he readily admits himself will have the effect of splitting his audience right down the middle, when it is finally revealed. You will either pick it up early and buy it when it is revealed or you will loathe it. It didn't work for me because when I thought about it for five minutes I found holes in the plot big enough to drive a semi-trailer through.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that Antonio Banderas stars in the film too, as Nicolas, the paparazzi photographer who at the beginning of the film is asked to take on an assignment to snap the picture of the reclusive Laure Ash (the stunning Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Antonio Banderas actually does a great job with his role here, it must be said. He smoulders away and his comic acting skills come to the fore when he acts the part of a gay artist at one point, as a temporary ruse to try to gain entry into the hotel room of Laure (the stunning Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Jokes aside though, Banderas does a great job of his role in this film, admittedly not having much to work with, and I should also mention that the two main stars are ably backed up by a decent supporting cast, doing their bit with some pretty rudimentary characters.

    There's no denying Brian De Palma's talents and status as a director and there is certainly no denying that this film is both stylistic and accomplished visually. This film employs all of the characteristic De Palma flair and techniques. It is a technical achievement from a talented director who had high intentions. So now can we move on to the transfers please?...

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Here's where we start to shine. This is a modern film, well recorded and handsomely produced on modern equipment. Care has been taken with the transfer of the high quality source material to DVD, so we have an absolute bottler.

    The transfer is presented on DVD in a ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, which is a minor compromise and no real loss from the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1.

    The picture is beautifully sharp, with well-defined images and textures, great shadow detail and no low level noise. Just have a look at the fine detail on display in any number of the facial close-ups as an example of how pristine this image is. The quality of the image does not let up appreciably throughout the movie.

    Colouring cannot be faulted in the slightest. Solid blacks in the night time scenes and clothing, warm colours with healthy levels of saturation, good balance across the entire palette and realistic skin tones. Colours are free from bleed or chroma noise. And the detail in those night time scenes. Wow. Is Paris really this clean?

    No MPEG artefacts are introduced. The only notable film-to-video artefact is a moderate amount of edge enhancement employed in some scenes. This is annoying. Why producers feel the need to do this given they have such a high quality and well defined print in the first place is completely beyond me. Film artefacts are so minor as to be nonexistent.

    The transfer includes a burned-in English subtitle stream to translate the French dialogue of the secondary characters. You can hardly miss these subtitles, as they are VERY BIG on the screen!  Just compare the size of these whoppers to the normal selectable English subtitle stream for the other spoken parts by comparison, and you'll see what I mean. I sampled the selectable English subtitle stream and found it to be clear, unobtrusive and fairly accurate.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change unobtrusive at 55:31.
       

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    A brilliant audio transfer accompanies the brilliant video transfer.

    Only one audio track is on offer; English Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 384Kb/s).

    Dialogue quality is strong and resonant throughout. If anything, it almost borders on being too deep and resonant in parts. I must also admit that I did have a bit of trouble picking up some lines, specifically those of Antonio Banderas and one or two of the French bodyguards at times, but this is due to these actors' thick accents and not the audio transfer. Still, Banderas manages to muffle through one very important line when he is on the bridge towards the climax of the film, so much so that I found it necessary to go back and watch it again with the subtitles on, so I could understand what was said before moving on. It must have been a late Friday afternoon in the ADR session to let this line slip through.

    I spotted no issues at all with audio sync.

    The music score by Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto is refreshingly quirky and unique. The score blends a contemporary sound, a la Eric Serra, with other influences to provide an interesting mix. The audio transfer handles this score and all sound effects beautifully, with great dynamic range. This dynamic range is evident most particularly with the depth of the score right around the soundstage, but also too with the clarity maintained through the midrange and the tight percussion.

    Surround presence and activity also scores highly. This is an impressive use of the 5.1 format. The rear channels are used fairly constantly, at times just for ambience and background noise effects to balance the relatively front-weighted soundstage, but then at other times as a full-on embellishment of the stirring music and effects during the action sequences, to provide a more balanced front-to-back weighting. The most impressive aspects of the surround use lies in the clarity and directionality of the mix, and the depth of the sounds being dispersed right around the soundstage (listen to the cello around the room, for example). This is certainly an immersive audio transfer and beggars just a bit more volume.

    The subwoofer comes to the party too. It is called upon liberally and constantly. It rumbles along throughout to help out with the music score and accentuate the sounds of thunder and gunshots most effectively, among other things.

   

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are a couple of decent extras on offer here. The featurettes tend to be a bit 'more of the same' after the first couple, but they do provide a much better understanding of the director's intentions with this film and the effort that went into it.

Menus

    The menus are all in the appropriate aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced, commensurate with the feature. All menus are static and only the main menu includes audio underscore.

    All the extras described below are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (full frame) and with 2 channel audio, unless otherwise stated. The quality for all the featurette extras is high, with clean and sharp video, adequate colouring (unless separately commented on below) and clear stereo audio.

    WARNING:  I would strongly recommend that you do not watch any of these featurette extras until after you have seen the feature, as they give away way too much of the story. Watching them afterwards will give a much better appreciation of what the film was striving to achieve and I'm sure will then whet your appetite to go back and revisit it, to pick up different aspects of the story.

Featurette 1: Visualising Femme Fatale (11:24)

    Contains interviews with the director, producer and the two stars. The director talks about his attraction to the film noir style and other aspects of the film. It then lapses into just a very detailed run through of the story, in the director's own words.

Featurette 2: Femme Fatale: An Appreciation (23:44)

    This is the meatiest of the featurettes and goes into various aspects of Brian De Palma's intentions and the filmmaking process generally. It gives away way too much of the story though and starts to border on self-promotion, but does provide interesting insights along the way.

Featurette 3: Femme Fatale: Dressed To Kill (1:50)

    Boring. Basically just a self-promotion piece comprised of slide show and snippets from the film. We've seen it all by this stage. The colouring is a bit washed-out in this one, too.

Featurette 4: Behind the scenes (4:41)

    Just more of the same. Audio sync is also out in the Rebecca Romijn-Stamos interview extracts.

Theatrical trailers - 2

    The first theatrical trailer (2:14) is a modern, clean, slick trailer presented here in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced. The second one (running for 2:05) is billed as the French trailer - although the spoken extracts used are actually in English - and this is presented in a ratio of 1.85:1, not enhanced this time. The quality of this second trailer is quite grainy and with drained colour. Still, it is memorable for the more unique approach it uses to selling the story and for a tag line that is very funny and works well for the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc is already available in Region 1 and will not be released in Region 2 until August. Putting aside PAL vs NTSC issues, the only difference between the two versions currently available is that Region 1 receives one additional but inconsequential extra, being cast and filmmakers' bio screens. We do not miss out on any of the featurettes or other extras.

    I rate this as a Region 4 winner for the superior PAL resolution.

Summary

    The Femme Fatale DVD could perhaps be summed up in five-words-or-less as "a visual and aural feast". Flashy, stylistic, polished and attention-grabbing in every way, yes. But just don't sit down and analyse that plot for too long. Hell, just run with it and enjoy it.

    Naturally you'll need to see it at least twice and your excuse will be to absorb the impact of the stunning video and audio transfer this DVD receives. This, plus the decent featurette extras that are provided to help explain the director's intentions with the film. So, as a DVD package, it's pretty hard to go past.

    Now can I finally be excused, please? I think I need to go back and review the film just one more time again, to triple-check I haven't missed any of Brian De Palma's subtleties or Rebecca Romijn-Stamos's surprisingly good acting. In fact, I think I also need to review X-Men and Austin Powers 2 again now, too... oh alright then, and potentially Rollerball (2002) as well.....

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Monday, June 09, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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