Review of “Femme Fatale”

 
 

Reviews of Femme Fatale (2002) have tended to put the movie into one of two camps: fun, sexy trash — or just plain trash.

Written and directed by Brian de Palma (who also directed Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables, Bonfire of the Vanities, among others) and set in Paris, Femme Fatale follows the exploits of Laure/Lilly (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos), a self-described "bad girl, rotten to the heart" who manipulates and double-crosses everyone she encounters — except, interestingly, her lover Veronica (Rie Rasmussen), which is where the film becomes more than just a vehicle for bad-girl eye candy.

The film opens with Laure and her male partners executing a jewel heist at the Cannes Film Festival; the jewelry is a diamond-studded gold snake worn by Veronica, which Laure plans to steal by seducing her.

This is the set-up for the infamous bathroom sex scene between Laure and Veronica that takes up several minutes of the beginning of the film.

But things don't go exactly as planned, and shortly thereafter, Laure is knocked out in a fall while being pursued by her former partners, and when she wakes up, is mistaken for someone else: a woman named Lilly who recently lost her husband and young daughter.

It's difficult to explain more without giving too much of the story away, but the rest of the film involves a series of plot twists and turns that focus heavily on Laure/Lilly's interactions with a photographer, Nicolas (Antonio Banderas) as she alternates between sexy and deadly, charming and immoral.

Evaluation of the movie's representation of bisexuality depends primarily on whether you analyze the movie solely on its own merits, or in the context of the current lack of cinematic representations of bisexuality.

Since portrayals of bisexuality and bisexual women are rare in mainstream films, the few that do exist tend to have a disproportionate impact on bisexual visibility overall, and from this standpoint, Femme Fatale clearly reinforces the "evil bisexual" stereotype by linking bisexuality with criminal, immoral, and manipulative behavior.

But viewing it as a stand-alone film, divorced from its larger context, Femme Fatale appears to actually challenge conventional stereotypes of bisexuality because Laure has a more enduring and authentic relationship with Veronica than with anyone else, even if it is not Laure's primary romantic attachment.

In this way, Femme Fatale both reinforces and challenges existing stereotypes of bisexuality and bisexual women, which is one of the reasons the film is more complicated than it first appears.

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