Newest Review: ... the black swan, and Natalie is very convincing as an angelic figure that cannot break through. Which is where Mila Kunis comes in aptly... more
Nothing is as black and white as it seems
Black Swan (DVD)
Member Name: Starlight81
Black Swan (DVD)
Advantages: acting and dance performances, soundtrack, plot
Disadvantages: are there any? it's not light-hearted, if that's what you prefer
This is another of those films where providing a synopsis could prove difficult, but I'll give it my best shot... Natalie Portman plays Nina- a young ballerina working at the New York City Ballet and obsessed with dancing. She lives at home with her mother, a former ballerina who seems as obsessed with Nina's dancing as she is, if not more so.
Just before work on the latest production, Swan Lake, begins, Beth (Winona Ryder), who is the current favourite, is retired off and auditions are held for a new Prima Ballerina to take her place. Whoever is chosen as the lead must be capable of playing both Princess Odette (the white swan) and Odile (the black swan, who has a much darker nature). While Thomas Leroy, the director (Vincent Cassel) sees Nina as being perfect for the role of Odette, he can't envisage her portraying the character of Odile. Add to this the new girl on the block, Lily (Mila Kunis), who also impresses Leroy, and you've got the makings of a darkly dangerous and obsessive situation.
As Nina struggles to fit the role she so desperately desires her mind darkens and she finds herself doing things she would never have dreamed of. Strange and sinister things begin to happen- she constantly finds cuts on her skin, or pieces of skin peeling off and then mysteriously reappearing moments later. The scratch on her back that never disappears, but only gets worse, is particularly frightening for her as she doesn't remember how the marks appeared there.
Added to this is the potent sexual nature of the film as she experiences a sexual relationship with her darker counterpart, Lily, and also with the director, Leroy. This side of the film lies in stark contrast to the nature of her relationship with her mother, who doesn't appear to want her to grow up and keeps all her cuddly toys in her daughter's distinctly infantile bedroom.
The sinister nature of the story and the atmosphere is portrayed extremely effectively on screen, and particularly in the way that almost every scene with Nina in it includes a reflection of herself in either a mirror or a window pane. This builds the suspense wonderfully, as you constantly expect something to happen, or an image to suddenly appear.
The soundtrack, as may well be expected, is fantastic. Apparently the composer, Clint Mansell, used the music from Swan Lake, but distorted it and played it backwards. This adds an interesting twist, as it feels like music you can recognise, but not enough to relax and enjoy it because there's something distinctly unfamiliar about it at the same time.
In this review, though, I've saved the best until last. Obviously much credit goes to Darren Aronofsky for making a film which perhaps even outstrips his last outstanding effort, but without Natalie Portman all his hard work may just have gone to waste. She in fact doesn't look much like herself in this film- she is incredibly thin, to an unhealthy level, and looks utterly exhausted- the exact prototype of an overly ambitious ballerina. However, she is so convincing physically that this could only have been achieved by over-exertion in real life, which appears to be exactly the case. Apparently she lost 20 pounds in weight for the role, and trained seven days a week in ballet to be able to perform most of her own dancing on screen.
It's not just the physical aspect that makes her performance so impressive,
however. Much like James Franco in 127 Hours, Portman must carry large chunks of the film on her own, and it is fortunate that she is able to do this.
This is not to say that the supporting actors do not play an important role, and many of them are just as good as Portman. Kunis, for example, is very good at creating a convincing tension between herself and Portman, both sexual and otherwise. Vincent Cassel (the director) has probably been most notable for his roles in French films, at least as far as I'm concerned, and was excellent in La Haine, but here he excels himself once again.
Aronofsky also managed to make this film on a relatively low budget (13 million, though he was expecting much more financing than this)- in fact, when Portman cracked a rib during a practice lift, there was no medic on set to help, due to the lack of a budget. Under these circumstances, her performance and the film as a whole are even more remarkable.
As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this film, though it's certainly not going to provide an evening of light entertainment, so save it for when you're in a serious mood and can stomach it!