Saturday, 22 January 2011

Black Swan - Cineworld - 21/1/11

Beautiful young woman is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer, handsome prince discovers beautiful swan, prince falls for wrong swan, beautiful young woman discovers the prince falling for the wrong swan and promptly kills herself soon to be followed by the prince.

Darren Aronofsky isn't a director who is afraid to take chances or to follow his own vision...from the highs of "Pi" and "The Wrestler" to the twisted, dark, arresting "Requiem for a Dream" and then to the universally derided "The Fountain" this is a director who has done it his way.  He makes films that are driven by story and performance...he isn't a CGI freak or a man who requires a budget that could wipe out third world debt to make films that are interesting, disturbing, upsetting, inspiring and different.  With "Black Swan" he has excelled himself, this is a film that combines the weird and wonderful of "Requiem for a Dream" and "Pi" with the glorious storytelling of "The Wrestler".  It is as close to perfect as it may be possible to get.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer who is short on confidence, nervous, uneasy and uncomfortable in her own skin.  The significance of her skin should not be understated as it is the source of much discomfort for her throughout the film.  When she is chosen by company director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) for the lead in "Swan Lake" it should be the cue for a new dawn, happiness and fulfillment but is, instead, the starting point of a hysterical dive into a schizophrenic hell that ultimately sees her follow the Swan Queen literally as well as metaphorically.

Nina is haunted by nightmarish visions of her own body changing, driven to the edge of despair and to the heights of ecstasy by her nemesis and friend Lily (Mila Kunis) and thrust into sheer desperation by Thomas and her feelings for him.  It is an unravelling and descent that is truly simply isn't possible to take your eyes off of Portman as she delivers a performance that will stand as a career high in an already impressive career.

Throughout the film Aronofsky makes use of and reference to reflection...mirrors, windows, doppelgangers, portraits, look-a-likes all feature prominently as Nina unravels.  At times it is very difficult to tell what, or who, we are really looking at.  Is what we are seeing real or a mirror image?  Is Nina herself simply a reflection of herself within her own fragmenting subconscious?  On occasion Aronofsky even managed to tap into my own greatest reflection refusing to reflect and acting independently of me.  Barely a scene passes without some sort of mirroring or reflection...the enormous mirrors inside the dance studio, dark windows on the subway, dancers mirroring one anothers movements and, of course, the dark reflection of the Black Swan herself.

Metamorphosis is another key element within the film as Nina transforms, both literally and metaphorically, into the Black Swan.  But it is not only Nina who is shifting shape and transforming; her mother has changed from dancer to mother, Lily is desperately trying to become Nina, former prima ballerina Beth (played superbly by Winona Ryder) is transformed from "little princess" to cripple.  Nobody is who they appear to be and nothing is what it seems to be.

Much of the discussion on "Black Swan" has, naturally, centered on the dance...most importantly on Portmans ability to dance.  I have some experience in this field having appeared on stage with the Kirov and have actually appeared in "Swan Lake".  Admittedly I wasn't dancing and was simply an extra body used to "pad out" certain moments but it's closer than you've come to being a professional bloody dancer!  I don't know how good or bad Portman was but I found the dance scenes to be convincing and beautiful.

I have a very close friend who has never forgiven Aronofsky for "The Fountain" which he described as "...a load of mince".  To that friend I say "Bobby, forgive Aronofsky, forgive him then see the Black Swan and have your faith in him restored".

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