Thursday, October 28, 2010

Austin Film Fest - "Black Swan"

Black Swan - 5/5

Neil Miller of Film School Rejects put it best when he said "Black Swan should come with a disclaimer: Dear viewer, remember to breathe during the third act, you might forget." To put it bluntly at least. Darren Aronofsky has crafted something of a psychological horror masterpiece with his latest film. While I fully expected it to be incredibly taught, intense, dark, edgy, and engaging, I never really expected it to be so much fun. In fact, I would go so far as to say that not only is it the most genuinely terrifying psychological horror thriller to come along in years, dare I say maybe even over a decade, but it's also the most fun I've had in a theatre in years.

The film plays out a lot like a mashup of Roman Polanski's "Repulsion" and Powell & Pressberger's "The Red Shoes" in a lot of ways. What makes the film so intense and scary is that there's no cheesy explanation or exposition for the horrors on screen. Not. Ever. It's pure visceral psychological head games. Nina is simply losing her mind under all the stress and pressure of being cast as the Swan Queen in her ballet company's production of "Swan Lake". In a lot of ways, the way the company director, played deliciously by Vincent Cassell, describes the production of the ballet , stripped down and purely visceral, reflects the nature of the film. It's all about being in Nina's head as the story progresses. She hallucinates, and the way Aronofsky combines practical, in camera tricks with visual effects and clever editing is astonishing. It makes for all the more frightening and unnerving and experience. The film moves at such a fast pace that one never feels the time pass. It's a whirlwind tour de force of filmmaking, with so many thrilling, sexy, scary,  "OMG Holy shit did that really just happen or was it all in her head WTF is happening to my brain?!" moments that it's a miracle actually manages to stay in total control and never once fly off the rails into the danger zone of camp trash it so delicately teeters on the brink of, never actually falling into it. And boy does it ever make for one hell of a ride.

Natalie Portman is nothing short of a revelation here. This is the kind of role we've been waiting for her to take on. Something completely different for her, something truly exciting and, not to sound like a broken record, visceral, primal, and intense. We're as frightened as she is through the whole thing, because it isn't until the last possible moment in each horrifying hallucination that we see the reality of the situation. Even so, we're still never certain what is real and what isn't. But the beauty of the performance is that neither is she. I never once thought that Portman was faking it or really aware of what was really going on. They kind of range she has on display here is simply incredible. Mila Kunis is equally impressive. Her sultry, smoky performance often leaves us wondering if he really is a carefree fellow dancer who is simply trying to extend friendly advances or if her intentions are more sinister than she looks. It's not a flashy role or performance, very natural and charismatic, as we've come to expect from her. All I can say is that I'm not as big on girl-on-girl stuff as most guys, but holy hell this was one sexy film, and the "scene" between Portman and Kunis is hotter than the sun. Vincent Cassell, as stated before, is deliciously oily and, like most of the supporting characters, we're never really certain of his true motives.

But really, all of this is largely due to the total mastery of atmosphere Darren Aronofsky shows here. From the expert use of sound design, to Matthew Libatique's twisted cinematography, to Clint Mansell's seamless mesh of original score and Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" no technical aspect is left wanting. Aronofsky is not only a director willing to do the hard work, but he's a genius and he knows it. If anything, the film shows that he's got some huge-ass balls. The film is such a director's achievement that it's very clear no other filmmaker could have made it. The way the camera follows Nina in the final sequence as we watch her finally perform on stage on opening night is nothing short of incredible, darting in and out of backstage, following her every move, creating a ballet of it's own playing with light and shadow, spinning as she spins. The result is stunning, and will leave you absolutely breathless.


Matt Bukaty said...

one word: stoked. I can't believe I have to wait until December...

maybe they'll do a limited release just for me...ha

Kevin K. said...

Just a little bit over a month to go. I can't wait to see it again. If they had decided on an ecore screening here I would have been all over that. But it's just such extraordinary and ballsy bravura filmmaking at it's finest. Despite how unnerving it is, it's still one hell of a good time, because everyone in the audience is so on the edge of their seats. And I have to say, the choice to screen this film in the Paramount theatre was spot on perfect, considering the subject matter of the film. The audience absolutely went nuts for it, standing ovation (kind of) included.

mombot said...

This has been on my list of movies I must see since I saw the trailer. Very glad it lives up its promise. YAY!!!

I liked The Red Shoes, too.

Sales on Film said...


Brennan Utley said...

Aronofsky is probably visually one of the best directors of my generation (in my opinion). I only expect great things from this film

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