|Surprise! I'm secretly Annette Bening.|
So I figure the mark of a good film is that it stays with you. You should leave the cinema thinking about it – and it should at least occupy some space in your mind in the following days.
So when I sat down to think about the Darren Aronofsky psychological ballet thriller (love that description) it occurred to me that this was, in fact, the first time that I’d really thought about it all day – and I saw it yesterday.
After discussing it in detail on a new podcast I gave it a score of 16/25 – which would equate to roughly 12.8 out of 20 – but getting further away from it I think I might like it even less than that.
Here’s why, after the jump;
I’ll start by admitting that Black Swan is not really my kind of film. I’ve always found Aronofsky a heavy-handed director, ballet is something that eludes this mainstream monkey, and only the best psychological thriller/horror carries much weight with me. So Black Swan was starting off a big handicap.
Having said that, it was also low on the scale of my favourite word – expectation – so there was room to be surprised. But after the 104 minute running time I found myself checking my watch, only occasionally interest and rarely compelled by this strange little genre film.
Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers (a good movie name, by the way) a high-strung, controlled, uptight ballerina hoping to become the new star of the company run by cock-of-the-walk director Tomas played by Vincent Cassel. Her life begins to spiral out of control as the pressure exerted by Tomas, her mother and a rival ballerina played by Mila Kunis.
From that fairly standard set-up comes a movie that is anything but, to give it its due, and what is real and what is Nina’s imagination becomes harder and harder to recognise as the film moves along.
The film has been called everything from trash to high art, but the reality is its really somewhere in between. A glorified B-movie (not that there’s anything wrong with that) with excellent technical work from everyone involved – the trash base collides with the high art ambitions constantly.
The biggest problem with the film is Aronofsky. We are completely drilled with black and white imagery to the point where it becomes irritating, as if Aronofsky doesn’t give any of us credit to get it. What’s more, this black/white dynamic doesn’t serve any purpose. It’s there as an incredibly basic signifier of Nina’s journey but doesn’t add anything to it. It’s just there to look cool but by the time I was over it (a good, ooooh, ten minutes in?) it had lost all impact.
That’s the brickbat, here’s the bouquet: the ballet scenes are outstanding. Filmed with a kinetic energy that surpasses anything else the film can manage – they’re very beautiful and scored to perfection by Clint Mansell. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is impeccable throughout as well – and everything comes to life when we’re on stage.
The script is patchy, to say the least, and never really reaches above its roots as an allegory to achieve the level of character needed to elevate the film. Vincent Cassel’s character is basically there to constantly underline whatever point Aronofsky is trying to make while Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey do what’s expected of them in the roles this kind of film is contractually obligated to include.
The other performances are excellent; specifically Mila Kunis as Natalie Portman’s rival Lily. Kunis must have put no less effort into her ballet training and she pulls off this loose, easygoing character with the warmth and charm that makes you understand why Portman is so mistrustful (and jealous) of her. She missed out on a Best Supporting Actress nomination but this film has proven to directors and studios that she can pull off a role in a dramatic film with ease.
Portman fares slightly less well, but only slightly, doing a very good job of a character that by its nature restricts how much an actress can really do. She plays the dualities of the character nicely, is incredibly brave and committed to the role and when given the rare opportunity, manages to own the screen. Vincent Cassel also deserves credit for never quite overplaying a role that a lesser actor would chew scenery with.
Overall I think Black Swan is not quite the film it wants to be – never quite deserving of the artistic merit it strives for nor trashy enough to be completely entertaining. Much like Mila’s last name, it’s neither one thing nor the other.
A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS
- I don’t know much about ballet, but can someone tell me exactly what we see about Tomas’ production of Swan Lake is quite so edgy? It seemed almost exactly as I’d expect a production of Swan Lake to be.
- There are scenes here that are distractingly reminiscent of Aronofsky’s previous, superior film, The Wrestler.
- Winona Ryder: Still not a good actress.
- I generally have a bad stomach for violence, especially horror violence, but there’s really not much to be worried about here. Or maybe I’m being desensitized.
- The much-ballyhooed sexual scenes are like reading Zoo magazine, sexy at first and then disturbing, before becoming merely uncomfortable.
- One of Aronofsky’s next films is The Wolverine, which will no doubt have an actual wolverine in every scene to drive home the ‘message.’
OVERALL SCORE: Yesterday, it was 12.5 out of 20 and I’ve drifted on that but only slightly. Should you see it? Yes, because it tries things and I can imagine it being a thrilling experience if you’re into that sort of thing. But I can only give it a 12/20.
OVERALL RANKINGS FOR THE YEAR
The King’s Speech 17/20
The Fighter 15/20
Black Swan 12/20