Old 12-09-2010, 10:18 PM
Black Swan

(Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

Somebody once said that filmmaking is like opening a restaurant: In order for it to be successful, you need a group of people to collaborate and work together in order to create something that works. Each team member is good at their particular area of expertise: one handles the business end, one designs the restaurant, one handles customer service; on the creative end, the chef, the sauté, the fry cook, the desert chef… they all need to work together in order to create something good; everyone brings something to the table. A film requires a similar balance in order to be successful. The screenwriter needs to work with the director, the director with the technical crew, the producer with the director and with the distributors… without this equilibrium, a film cannot succeed. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, a director will come along who is so distinct and thorough and talented at his craft, that he can take something that could be mediocre and makes it into something spectacular. I believe that Darren Aronofsky is one of those directors, and furthermore, is hands down one of the finest directors to emerge in recent film history. And Black Swan is one of his most fascinating films.

At its core, Black Swan is a fairly simple melodrama. We are introduced to a fragile up-and-coming ballerina who lands the lead role in Swan Lake and faces the emotional difficulties of the role, her rival ballerinas, her seductive instructor and her overbearing mother. It is material that could very easily lend itself to an exaggerated, over-dramatized work of pulp fiction. And yet, Aronofsky takes his unique style and directing sensibilities, and manages to create something so fascinating and compelling, it’s impossible to resist. The script does not offer us much information about our protagonist at all – and yet, the film delves so deep into her mind and her subconscious… it is this type of contradiction that throws off the equilibrium. And yet, somehow, it almost lends to the air of suspense and mystery surrounding the film.

What I find most fascinating about Aronofsky’s depiction of Nina’s mental desintegration is that he doesn’t offer us any clues, hints or answers to the questions and mysteries he sets up. Things keep getting weirder and weirder as Nina’s emotions continue to become more and more externalized and as her visions and fantasies continue to become more vivid and twisted… and yet, unlike something like, say, Fight Club or Identity which both offer a very clear explanation and solution to all the craziness at the end, Black Swan doesn’t provide us with an easy way out. It bombards us with this crazy imagery and immerses us in this visceral emotional experience, and offers us no way out. We are trapped inside of Nina’s head; to the point where it stops becoming clear exactly what is reality and what is only in her head. In this sense, Aronofsky manages to provide us with incredible insight into the character’s psyche, far more than is provided in the dialogue or face value characterization.

The filmmaking techniques lend themselves to the subject matter perfectly. Aronofsky and his cinematographer Matthew Libatique shot the film on 16mm and mostly in close-ups, creating a very gritty and very intimate visual language that further immerses us deep into Nina’s world and keeps us very close to her character. The ballet sequences are beautifully shot. Instead of shooting them from afar as most directors have done until this point, Aronofsky takes his camera right into the thick of action, follows the dancers around on stage, arcs and pans with them as they jump and glide and spin, and really pulls us right into the action. Like the story, the film’s mise-en-scene is also directly informed by the content of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake”, which is prominently featured in the film. Costume and set design often emphasize very stark color schemes of black and white, and Aronofsky also employs a fascinating mirror motif that is constant throughout the film – almost every shot has a mirror in it, further reflecting the themes of duality that both the ballet and the film itself deal with.

But one cannot discuss this film without talking about the crux of the film, the pillar that supports the entire enterprise: Natalie Portman’s central performance. Portman is a young actress though she has been around for a while, and has had a number of films in which she had already proven her worth as an actress, but I think that her lead performance in this film is the defining moment of her career, will win her a number of well-deserved awards and will put her firmly on the map once and for all. It is a phenomenal performance; the amount of dedication required from Portman in order for her to fully step into Nina’s shoes and take us into the world of the film is incomprehensible. She really gives it her all, and creates a haunting, visceral, emotional portrayal of a deeply troubled woman. It is the best performance I have seen this year, and truly a crowning achievement in acting. The other performances in the film are also very well done: Vincent Cassel does a great job as the seductive, slightly menacing dance instructor, and Barbara Hershey is absolutely terrifying as Nina’s overbearing mother. Mila Kunis is surprisingly effective and shows a startling dark side in her role as the rival ballerina, and it’s always great to see Winona Ryder doing her thing. I still think she’s a great actress and wish she could get back to her hey-day in the 90’s. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

What I find most fascinating about this film is how well it works as a companion piece to Aronofsky’s last film, The Wrestler. Aronofsky has, on multiple occasions, discussed the spiritual connection between these two films, and watching them both, it becomes very apparent. Both are shot in an identical style: gritty, 16mm hand-held camera-work with long takes and tracking shots from behind. Both are also about performers who push their bodies to the limit for the sake of their art. Both also feature strained daughter-parent relationships. However, the similarities end here. What is so interesting is how these films take a similar initial subject matter and aesthetic style but portray their stories so differently. First off, thematically, The Wrestler is about a character that is at the end of his career, while Black Swan is about a similar character at the beginning of hers. Where The Wrestler was a very straightforward, honest, realistic drama, Black Swan is a highly stylized psychological thriller that delves very deep into the character’s sub-conscious and visually portrays her fears and emotions and desires in the form of strange visions and occurrences. However, both films end on a similar note: In both, the protagonists end up sacrificing themselves for their art. The final sequence in Black Swan depicting this sacrifice, showing Nina’s full downward spiral and transformation is one of the most thrilling pieces of filmmaking I have seen all year. Aronofsky’s greatest achievement is taking what would be a very simple and straightforward story and creating such a compelling, visceral emotional experience out of it. I cannot wait to see the film again and try to uncover and notice all of the little details that I may have missed the first time. But mostly, I can’t wait to be swept away by the Aronofsky experience again. A truly extra-ordinary work of art, if I’ve ever seen one.

RATING: 9/10.
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Old 03-13-2011, 11:48 AM
Black Swan

The movie was very impressive. The opening scene was visually great and at the end it got even better: full of emotion and passion.

The first part is more dramatic, while the second part unfolds the thriller-side. The movie is definitely misunderstood often, which is a shame. This might have to do with the small elements in the movie, a lot of persons do not see or get. For example, the very beginning with the nightmare, which Nina later on lives the nightmare.
Overall, I can say that Aronofsky succeeded in getting the best out of the actors and actresses, the choreography is to feast and the timing of Aronofsky is just perfect.
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Old 03-15-2011, 08:54 AM

This film has made my expectations. Natalie Portman plays brilliant and Aronofsky's just an awesome director. Best movie of 2011 so far!
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Old 03-25-2011, 06:30 PM
Originally Posted by NathalieFictorie View Post
This film has made my expectations. Natalie Portman plays brilliant and Aronofsky's just an awesome director. Best movie of 2011 so far!
... except it's a 2010 film.
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Old 05-25-2011, 12:53 AM
I don't know why i dislike Black Swan. I think Black Swan is a little over, and makes me a little gloomy...
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