Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Black Swan struggles to keep afloat. Bottle Tree Productions Movie Review

The Darren Aranofsky directed The Black Swan is a fascinating look at the disintegration of a personality.
The ugliness inside the beautiful cover was made memorable in Roman Polanski's disturbing 1965 film; Repulsion which starred Catherine Deneuve. Natalie Portman's beautiful ballerina Nina has a repressed personality which cracks under the stress of her playing two different leads in a ballet; The Black Swan and the White Swan. The camera is close up on Portman's beautiful face creating a claustrophobic feeling. Her careful control slowly cracks, like the mirrors she is obsessed with. Barbara Hershey is a wonderful worn beauty as the controlling stage mother. You can see why Portman is drowning psychologically.

Mila Kunis is charismatic as Nina's rival. Vincent Cassel is wonderfully narcissistic as Thomas Leroy, the Artistic Director. Perhaps more of a stereotype than a fully fleshed-out character, but compelling nonetheless.

The film is a horror film with special effects, but it is psychological horror, an interior horror. Nina is running from herself.  We see the world through Portman's eyes, and so the audience cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not. As she is overwhelmed with dark fantasies that threaten to destroy her, Nina battles for her life against the monster within. Portman portrays Nina's obsessive compulsive behaviour with scratching and her eating disorder truthfully. For dancers, the person in the mirror is so important and so controlling, that it owns them, it can destroy them. In the end that piece of mirrored glass makes Nina's performance as The Black Swan a once in a lifetime experience.

Though I liked this film there are caveats.

This film is more film than movie, more art than craft. While Portman walks a psychological tightrope between sanity and the abyss, the film walks a tightrope between silliness and wonderfully disturbing. As an audience member you will make the decision whether the film is laughable or whether it works as a personal horror story. For me, Nina's transformation at the end, into a bird is pretty unbelievable. The end as well is very stagy. However it was compelling until it actually dealt with the performance on the stage.

The film seems to have some great ideas that remain only great ideas, perhaps because they weren't carried out as well as they could have been, weren't as convincingly realized on the screen as they might have been. They had a tight schedule for filming and it shows.

Rating ***stars

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