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Black Swan -- Movie Review

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If you’ve seen ‘The Wrestler’, Darren Arronofsky’s previous film, you’ll notice a bundle of similarities between that and his next feature, ‘Black Swan’. The highlight being about two individuals, who can only find freedom and acceptance within their passion; in ‘The Wrestler’, it’s wrestling. In ‘Black Swan’, step forward all you ballerinas in the crowd.

The film is a passionate, hauntingly beautiful tale about a ballerina, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman, Closer, V for Vendetta). She yearns to play the role of the Swan Queen in her dance company’s modern retelling of the classic ballet production ‘Swan Lake’. This requires her to step into two roles; one is the dainty, eloquent White Swan. The other; the sensual Black Swan.
Upon meeting Nina for the first time, it’s clear to the audience that here is a girl who embodies every aspect of the White Swan – she constantly appears flustered by others, nervous, and fragile. Only when her sexual repression is exploited by production director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, Mesrine, La Haine) does she begin to show the transformation that underlines the key to the entire film. And in my opinion, it’s Portman’s role here that ties the film, and indeed the audience, together, keeping it well and truly plastered to the ground without getting lost in the fantastical world that it creates.

Portman, to be quite frank, is awesome – her subtle transformation is flawless and the only thing that was missing from it was the image of a stiff, suited Academy member waltzing out from the wings at the mesmerizing final act, and stuffing the little gold man into her hands. No one else need bother – it’s the best performance you’ll see all year by an actress at the very top of her game. She, like the part she plays, loses herself in a role that embodies darkness, desire, intense lust, and at the very forefront, passion.
In supporting roles are Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Family Guy), playing the friend turned rival, and Barbara Hershey (Portrait Of A Lady) as the over-bearing mother, trying to live her failed dreams out through her daughter, and in the process, pushing just that bit too hard, causing a constant rift between the two, emanating in some of the most captivating scenes of the movie. Arronofsky relies on the fantastical elements, which weren’t present in ‘The Wrestler’, to really steer this film a different direction, and it flirts back and forth with elements of the horror genre, such as the rather eerie drawings in her mother’s room, the harrowing scene between Nina and Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands, Girl Interrupted) in the hospital, and the Black Swan herself – a truly terrifying, yet beautiful creature.

The choreography was very well done; I’m not familiar with ballet, but that side of the film was attractive and created an efficient contrast between itself and the darker elements of the film. The actors have clearly put a lot of work into achieving an authentic look, and from what I have read about the film, they’ve succeeded. That’s what I admired so much about the film, and indeed any other films that achieve the notion of grounding a film in reality, yet at the same time, being able to seemingly revert to another fantasy level of storytelling in an effortless manner. It’s a smart film, boosting powerful performances, it’s expertly put together and by the end, you’ll spend the next day or so questioning whether what you saw really just happened or not – a trait increasingly present in modern day cinema, and one that will stick around for a while. Watch this space.


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