Thursday, March 10, 2011
I have now viewed the films in competition with The King's Speech for the Best Director Oscar, and I rank the Colin Firth starrer fifth out of five. The Social Network and True Grit show far more cinematic acumen, though the latter is some way from being the Coens' best effort.
Darren Aronofsky would get my vote for Best Director, for Black Swan, which I saw yesterday. It's a movie that takes many risks; brimful of cliches, stereotypes and melodrama, but making something unexpected and disturbing from them. The film gives us a glimpse of the heart of darkness, while we imagine at the start that the protagonist's gradual discovery of an edgier self will bring relief and catharsis to us the audience.
Let me step back and explain what I mean. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a pretty ballerina (see what I mean by cliches? Aronofsky riffs off everything from ABBA to fairy tales, Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes and Roman Polanski's The Tenant in the course of the movie's hundred minute running time) who is selected to play the main role in a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Swan Lake is about a woman cursed to take the form of a white swan by day and requiring true love to become fully human again. Just as she appears to have found such love through Prince Siegfried, a scheming doppelganger named Odile takes the Swan Princess's place, and tricks Siegfried into declaring his love for her. This woman, Odile, is the Black Swan of the title.
The director of the ballet company is certain Nina will make an accomplished White Swan, but fears she is too goody-goody to be an effective Black Swan. He encourages Nina to walk on the wild side a little, to lose control. He thinks of this in sexual terms, asking her at one point to go home and touch herself. While Nina may be too repressed to touch herself, she is used to scratching herself, a form of self injury that complements her bulimia.
As she seeks her dark side, an abyss opens up much deeper than anything the ballet director could predict or desire. Starting off as a tale of self-overcoming not too far removed from The King's Speech, Black Swan shifts register and genres till, near the end of the ride, you're in the horror film neighbourhood, which is a bit like starting at the Lincoln Center and finishing in the Bronx.
Natalie Portman is excellent in the lead role. It's obvious she isn't a professional dancer, but she trained enough to be a plausible imitation, which is as much as you can expect from an actor. Her love scene with Mila Kunis was entirely removed by the censors.