Thursday, 17 March 2011

Black Swan (2010) - Darren Aronofsky

It was nice to be able go into this film cold, all I knew about it was that it was directed by Aronofsky which subsequently meant that the music was by Clint Mansell, starred Natalie Portman and was about ballet. Except of course it's as much about ballet as Deliverance is about canoeing. That's not to say that Aronofsky doesn't appear to adore the world he's set his film in, since there is a massive attention to detail on display with everything from how ballet shoes are prepared to be worn, through to the exercises and the actual dancing itself. Although I would question a top dancer doing her own make up. But there you go, I would wouldn't I?

It's just that the ballet is a backdrop for deeper more adult themes. Such as just how far is an artist prepared to go in order to achieve perfection? That ongoing chase that has seen many a creative genius labeled as a nutter. It's not just about that though, there's also the emotional road trip from girlhood to womanhood, of flying the nest and spreading those wings and escaping into the great big adult world.

So quite a lot to pack into a running time ten minutes shy of two hours then. Aronofsky directs the whole thing with the confidence of the seasoned pro that he's become, the pacing is spot on and not once during the film do you find yourself asking why am I watching this? Right from the off it was obvious that this was going to be a tale about duality of some sort, since almost every scene has a mirror in it, and Aronofsky never misses a chance to shoot Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) reflected in them. What starts off as a fairly ordinary drama quickly starts to turn uncomfortable, with Nina seeing doppelgangers of herself walking around. Then there is a fair bit of sub David Cronenberg style body horror too. Transformation, see, clever stuff eh? Except that's the thing, it's not quite as clever as it thinks it is.

The story is fairly simple on paper at any rate. Nina has the chance to dance the lead in a new production of Swan Lake, to do this however she must dance both the White Swan and the Black Swan. Thomas Leroy played by a never sleazier Vincent Cassel, convinces her that in order to play the Black Swan she has to let herself go and become the character. By doing this Nina begins to transform from the virginal White Swan into something far darker. Amongst all this are various sub plots all grim and disturbing. Nina's mother is over possessive and obviously a failed dancer herself, the type that pushes her daughter to achieve what she couldn't, only to stand in the way of her progress due to her own jealousy. Throughout the film she is dressed in black (as opposed to Nina's whites and pinks), in fact it has crossed my mind that she might have not been real at all and just a figment of Nina's frantic brain. I'd have to see the film again to be able to see if I'm wide of the mark with that thought or not though.

Mila Kunis plays Lily, Nina's main rival for the lead role. I don't think I've ever seen her in anything before but she was spot on here. As was Barbara Hershey as the maddest mother this side of Pyscho. Overall I thought this was one of those films that deserves the praise heaped upon it. Portman is particularly deserving of everything since she is in every scene and really the whole film is carried on her slender frame. The last words in the film will take some beating too. Perfect.

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