Round, relaxed and sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, Brian De Palma takes viewers on an amiable, chronological tour through his five-decade career in De Palma, a straightforward interview documentary co-directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow. He’s a genial, self-deprecating guide, smiling and shrugging over the ups and downs of his career and seemingly holding no grudges over any conflicts he had along the way. There are some great stories (including one about the antagonistic dynamic between Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox on the set of Casualties of War) as well as revealing insight into his preference for film form (“construction”) over things like plot and character.
Left largely unexplored, however, is the biggest charge against his work: the prevalent depiction of sexualized violence against women. When it comes up, De Palma shrugs this off too, saying, “You’ve always got to remember that you’re being criticized according to the fashion of the day.” We’re left, then, to draw our own conclusions about his motivations. And perhaps we have something of a clue in the childhood anecdote he shares about bursting into his father’s office with a knife and threatening both his father and the woman with whom his father had been having an affair. De Palma chuckles over the memory and doesn’t directly connect it with his more personal films, which churn on sex, violence and anger towards women. The De Palma of De Palma ultimately comes off as the same one behind such movies, then: a talented filmmaker, but not a deeply introspective one.