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Black Swan (DVD)
Member Name: calypte
Black Swan (DVD)
Date: 15/02/11, updated on 16/02/11 (89 review reads)
Advantages: fantastic score; dark, atmospheric, really left me thinking about it!
Disadvantages: borderline with cliches, and initially irritating character
When her ballet company decides to put on a fresh re-telling of the classic Swan Lake story, Nina is desperate to land the starring role. She's an excellent dancer, but her characteristic striving for perfection only magnifies her nervous, apprehensive personality, meaning that she's ideal for the timid white swan - but completely unsuitable for the other extreme: the seductive black swan. For, you see, in Swan Lake one dancer plays two roles of utterly opposing traits. It's no spoiler to reveal that Nina does indeed land her role of a lifetime, but can she overcome a lifetime of repression and commitment to unleash her wild side? And more to the point, what kind of strain does it put her mind under when she tries?
I can't say I'm a huge fan of ballet, but unlike director Darren Aronofsky's previous work (The Wrestler) it at least had some appeal. Black Swan was touted as a psychological thriller merely set in that world, anyway, and as my adoration for Inception shows, I'm all for a bit of mind-messing in my viewing! It doesn't hurt that ballet is indeed a beautiful art-form - at least on the surface! I'll start with a warning: I'm one of those cinema-goers who will quite happily munch popcorn through scenes of head-exploding gore - but I was literally hiding behind my fingers at some of the scenes revealing the ugly truth behind ballet: toes were not meant to face that kind of abuse, people!!
Anyway. Practically everything in this film revolves around Natalie Portman and her portrayal of Nina - she is, I believe, in every single scene. Her dedication to the role is well documented: a year pre-filming of learning ballet, shedding weight to look the part, and a genuine ability to dance - albeit not the most complicated bits of footwork, for which a professional took over as stand-in. Even so, it's paid off and Portman is very believable in the role, both physically and in an emotional context.
This latter almost proved to be a problem for me. The character of Nina is... well, quite frankly, annoyingly wet. She's completely under her mother's thumb, nervous to the point of constant tears and just thoroughly irritating as far as I was concerned! Of course, that is the point - her sheer mismatch to the seductive, sultry black swan character sets up the film's plot-journey. Even knowing this, however, I still found myself wanting to slap the pathetic little creature! It's a dangerous balancing act: to make the point, but still leave you willing to like Nina enough to follow her 'adventure' throughout the film.
Thankfully there are a few distractions. For a start, Nina's mother (Barbara Hershey) is so completely detestable that Nina doesn't seem that bad in comparison! The former ballet dancer is obviously re-living her own failed dreams through her daughter - a very well-worn theme, but one which is only used as background here.
Other possible clichés abound, too: the lecherous teacher, for instance, in the form of the company director (Vincent Cassel) using his powerful position to overstep the bounds of decency. The cliché here is somewhat mitigated by the way the character is left rather enigmatic: is he really being so obviously manipulative, or is it a more subtle ploy for the sake of the performance? Make up your own mind!
Of course, before the film's narrative begins Nina must surely have been putting up with these two forces for many years. There are two catalysts: being thrust into the spotlight by finally gaining a starring role, and the arrival of a new dancer. Lily (Mila Kunis) is everything Nina is not: free-spirited, passionate, and oozing raw sexuality. From the get-go it's obvious that Lily *is* the black swan character, just as Nina completely embodies the white - if only one dancer wasn't playing both sides! So can the white learn how to get her feathers ruffled - and can she cope with it?
So far so obvious, really, as far as the plot is concerned. However, I haven't really touched yet on why this film works so brilliantly, as far as I'm concerned. Nina's quest to find her dark side, as it were, is shown by completely involving the viewer in her point of view - and her state of mind. You go looking for the dark, chances are you're going to start finding it... and true enough, the film's tone gets darker and more shadowy as it progresses. More than this, however, it also gets increasingly difficult to separate Nina's reality from any kind of certainty - although it's going to take a while before the diversion becomes obvious.
It was only as the film grew to its frantic conclusion - matched, or rather matching, so perfectly the dramatic upswell of music that is Swan Lake's finale - that I found myself realising just how cleverly the film had been messing with my mind. Some of the tricks are obvious: Nina doesn't really grow feathers, for instance, but otherwise... I'll leave it to you as the viewer to decide how much you'd been led astray from the path of veracity, and how perfectly so. If I had one complaint it's that the black swan's outing is so tantalisingly brief - but leaving me wanting more was just the way to end!
An absolute thumbs up for this from me, then. It's not a perfect movie, but I'm giving it five stars anyway as the impact has stayed with me well past the viewing - the ending more than makes up for some minor irritations along the way. Just one final warning: appropriately enough, I absolutely could NOT shift *that* music from my head, for days and days and ...!!
*Running time: 108 minutes
*Rating: 15 (violence, sexual content)
*Theatrical release: 21st January 2011
*DVD release: tbc
Full cast details can be found on imdb.co.uk
Summary: Ballet may look beautiful, but neither toes nor minds were designed for that kind of abuse!