Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Swan

Ballerinas? They’re pink and fluffy, or posh and prissy. The big macho “The Fighter” has just come out and that’s got a real sport in it, with actors who have beefed up especially. Let the girls have their silly little dance film. It’ll be a sports-movie for girls. Like Bring it On.

You might be mistaken into thinking the above, particularly if your brain is very small and your name is something like Gray. But The Black Swan is so far removed from both a girls’ “The Fighter”, or any sports-genre flick you can think of. It isn’t one ballerina’s struggle to do the perfect twirly thing (I know nothing of ballet but conceal it well). It’s a dark psychological horror. With dancing. Fun!

Director Darren Aronofsky, doing the whole fighting thing with The Wrestler in 2008, trips back to his trippy roots of Requiem and The Fountain for this piece, bringing surreal and graphic images to screen, twisting reality and tightening the drama. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a perfectionist and a prude, who is cast as the central character in Swan Lake. Nina’s task is to embody two roles – one the delicate white swan (which she is made for) and the other a dark and dangerous black swan. Unfortunately Nina’s attempts to transform into the dark side slowly crumble her mind.

Portman is outstanding, and deserves just as much credit as the fighting boys for her physical work, doing ballet training for a year, dropping 20lbs from her already slender frame and sustaining a rib injury during filming. It all pays off, as she is entirely believable as a ballet dancer, her grace and poise beautiful to watch. She also brings great fragility to the role and mixes it with her disintegrating sanity. Her Oscar nomination is rightly so, and I would applaud a win next month.

Aronofsky’s direction is dizzying at times, cameramen twirling among the dancers and flicking past full-length mirrors in “hang on, how’d he..?” moments. And when things get dark, they get really dark – flashes of horror and explicit violence shock among all the plumage, and the whole film leaves you somewhat shaken. There are a few moments that raise a wry eyebrow. Graphic lady-loving, though adding to the seeping darkness in Nina’s mind, is perhaps a tad unnecessary in places and starts to feel a little exploitative. But in all this is a powerful film, with some striking direction and a fantastic cast.

A tense psychological drama wrapped up in the slender and punishing world of ballet makes for a visually exciting experience. Don’t watch too close to bedtime, and if you had hopes of becoming a world-class ballerina this might just put you off. Black Swan nails a CF3.

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