Saturday, 22 January 2011

REVIEW: Black Swan

Dir.: Darren Aronofsky
With: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel

Where to begin...Firstly, “Black Swan” has been so aggressively advertised that I don’t know anybody who hasn’t heard of it. Secondly, I have no idea why it came out so late in Europe in comparison to the States. As the result, many people have already watched it online, so for some of you this review is a bit of old news. Sorry about that, I waited for the official release date like a good citizen. Piracy is a crime, afterall : )

“Black Swan” starts off like any other respectable psychological thriller – there is a confused and troubled protagonist, Nina, a virginal ballerina with ambition, then there is the dodgy manipulative director (French, of course). There is also the mum, creepy and obsessive, projecting her own unfulfilled dreams onto Nina. And Lily – everything Nina wants to be – independent, free, sultry and black-clad (Nina herself favours the pastel/white colour range). Oh, and a washed-up prima ballerina played by Winona Ryder (very mean and symbolic bit of casting since Natalie Portman is the new gamine, Audrey Hepbern-esque actress on the block).  So far, so good.

As the film unfolds and as Nina becomes more and more paranoid, the more ridiculous the film becomes. Some scenes are so over the top, grotesque and unoriginal that I really had to laugh out loud and say ‘Really? You really had to do this?’ Some moments are so bonkers that they overshadow the good things in this film – like Natalie Portman’s acting (still, kind of over the top but understandably so).

As with any film about madness, it is sometimes hard to tell where reality ends and imagination begins, “Black Swan” presents no such problem – during the whole of the last half of the film we are subjected to Nina’s anxieties, visions and sexual yearnings. All in all, I would diagnose her as an infantilised woman with a split personality disorder, megalomania, bulimia, tendencies towards self-harm and frigidity.

I feel like I am being too negative; sure, it’s an inventive and entertaining piece of cinema with some gritty, claustrophobic camera work and fine performances, but I just don’t buy into the whole thing somehow. It’s too mad for a psychological thriller and way too commercial to be an art-house film. Maybe if they focused more on the real hardships of ballet dancers like eating disorders, vanity issues, prison-camp discipline, intrigues, injuries, etc., it would have been a little more believable and a little less “look at me everyone, I am a talented creative female and I am going crazy”.

Darren Aronofsky said in one of his interviews that he read a Dostoyevsky novel where the main character found that his doppelganger was slowly usurping his place. Then he watched Swan Lake and could not believe that the same dancer performed both the White and Black Swan parts. This is when the ideas started to rush into his head. I love Swan Lake (watched it at the Bolshoi, thank you very much, left the ballet with a face like o__o ) and, somehow, the drama of the real ballet seems to overshadow the unstable excitement of the film for me.

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