Wednesday, 19 January 2011

'Black Swan' Review

'Black Swan' (dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2010/2011), Cert: 15

It’s that time of year again where beautiful people meet in beautiful attire, bumbling press members form like packs of hungry animals waiting for a scoop and critics slap their printed stars everywhere to light up the page and posters rather than the sky; yes, it’s awards season, and 2011’s ceremonies are looking incredibly strong. The Golden Globes dished out decent awards, and with the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Academy Awards and the BAFTAs still to come, certain people could have very shiny cabinets soon enough, and some of those people are involved with this movie. The fantastic Darren Aronofsky directs ‘Black Swan’; a picture that blends so many genres and subject matters, it forms the cinematic version of a cocktail that’s strong enough to wipe out a nation.

 Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina for a New York City Ballet company. She lives and breathes dancing, spending all her hours perfecting her current routines and preparing for the next. She is a delicate and caring young woman who is driven by her passion for ballet. After the company announce they will be performing the classic ‘Swan Lake’, Nina is desperate to land the lead role, which the overtly-sexual artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to grant her. Nina’s personality is perfect for the role of the gentle White Swan, however she must also learn to play the role of the wicked and cruel Black Swan; a part she's never intended on playing but rises to the challenge. Nina quickly discovers competition in a new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis); a strikingly beautiful young woman whose go-getting attitude wins Leroy over. Lily possesses the sensuality and edge to play the Black Swan but only one girl can be the star of this show. Through her stress and paranoia, Nina starts to form behavioural habits of the darker swan and quickly becomes immersed in a world of madness and evil, which will ultimately lead to her demise.

 As I said earlier, this film is a cavalcade of genre and cinematic style; even elements of body horror are apparent in this psycho-sexual thriller. Just like Aronofsky’s earlier work, he strives to do more with his screen time, nothing is ever simple with him, and that’s why he is such a fine filmmaker. I wasn’t particularly keen on his last film, ‘The Wrestler’ in 2008 but this year he’s delivered the goods once again, and to be honest, ‘Black Swan’ is easily his best since ‘Requiem for a Dream’ (2000) and on repeat viewings, I can see this being his best picture in general. Aronofsky directs ‘Black Swan’ with such able hands; every shot is so elegant and personal, he places the camera in such a way it captures moments of true beauty that aren’t even main focuses of the picture. He presents the audience with such grace when filming the human body; in one scene we see in slow-motion Nina’s foot rotate as she pivots; it almost looks painful as we can see the detail in her shoes and the way her toes are bent, yet this running direction theme keeps this movie looking like no other.

 ‘Black Swan’ is certainly not a film for everyone however; it may be about ballet, but this is only the surface of a film that presents sexual tension, obsession, hysteria, violence and power in great detail. Perfection is a running theme throughout; the desire for perfection, the need for perfection and the impossible task of actually being perfect which in a sense, actually sums up ballet in general, it may look ‘perfect’ but under it all lies another seedy art form that allows people to get their hands dirty. Thankfully, the advertising and media coverage of the film hasn’t made this any secret so viewers should be aware of what they’re getting when they take their seats.

Still from 'Black Swan' (dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2010/2011)

 ‘Black Swan’ absorbs it’s audience into a world of beauty and nightmarish quality; it’s ferocious attitude compliments the tranquillity and grace of the dance making it an enriching, gothic and dazzling visual spectacle that will stay with you long after viewing. It chokes the viewer leaving them breathless; an emotion that only comes occasionally in American cinema.

 In regards to the awards season, the film has been hotly tipped to be a winner, especially Natalie Portman whose up for Best Actress in all the ceremonies. She should have won an Oscar years ago, and if she’s doesn’t grab it for this performance, then something is inexplicably wrong. Portman’s performance is nothing less than extraordinary. Her portrayal of Nina is a believable and heartbreaking account of a person so dedicated, they are actually blinded. She is wonderful as the smothered and overly-protected virginal girl and she is incredible as the demented and manic woman who becomes everything she ever feared. Portman is one of my favourite actresses and she is exquisite here.

 Cassel is also one of my favourite actors so this film had much to offer me, and he doesn’t disappoint either. Thomas is a creepy character whose sexual desire seems to empower him; his dancers almost fear him. He runs his hands across them and frequently questions their sexual preferences and habits. He makes the audience feel rather dirty which is what Cassel does best. Kunis is also great and this is the role which will gain some well-earned recognition. She’s no longer the girl many once referred to as “Meg from ‘Family Guy’!” Lily is a great character who merges wonderfully with Nina causing such a beautiful on-screen tension. Barbara Hershey also gives a fine performance as Nina’s infuriatingly compulsive and suffocating mother.

 January and February always sees the release of the critically labelled ‘best’ films, but in most circumstances, only few continue to loiter in the minds of film fans and critics throughout the year. For me however, ‘Black Swan’ along with ‘The King’s Speech’ (dir: Tom Hooper, 2010/2011) are the best films I’ve seen in a while and I am certain that they will appear highly in my top 10 of 2011.

 ‘Black Swan’ is a modern masterpiece that celebrates all that’s great about film-going; it’s a white-knuckle, high-octane rollercoaster ride about ballet, not something you hear often is it? As the film draws to it’s close, a track of audience applause fills the cinema as the credits roll, and I’m certain after viewing, many audience members will clap along too.

An utterly breathtaking, intoxicating and uncompromising cinematic experience that’s centred around a magnificent performance from Portman.

By Chris Haydon

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