Tuesday, December 28, 2010

BLACK SWAN - A Mind-Bending Movie

BLACK SWAN (dance drama)
Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel, Janet Montgomery, Barbara Hershey, Christopher Gartin, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway and Kristina Anapau
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

(This movie was viewed on Dec 26 in Indiana, USA, and blogged because it is an Oscar contender. It is scheduled to open in Malaysia on Feb 24, 2011).

Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman

PREAMBLE: There are a number of interesting things about this movie: (i) Director Darren Aronofsky has suggested that it is a 'companion piece' to his previous film, The Wrestler - suggesting that like wrestling, ballet is also a 'blood sport'; (ii) veteran critic James Berardinelli has called Black Swan a work of the 'mind-fuck' sub-genre - it's point-of-view narrative plays havoc with your mind; and (iii) most reviewers agree that this is the best performance of Natalie Portman's career and she deserves an Oscar nod for it.

Anyway, one does not have to be a ballet fan to appreciate the personal and external conflicts of Black Swan - a movie that will stay long in your mind after you leave the cineplex.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: For Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) ballet is her life and she aspires to be the perfect prima dona for her dance company. When impresario Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) plans to stage a re-imagined Swan Lake in New York City, Nina wants to be the Swan Queen. However, while Nina's talent makes her the perfect choice for the White Swan, she lacks the spontaneity and seductiveness necessary for the Black Swan. A fitting candidate for that role is the outgoing and sexy Lily (Mila Kunis), a newcomer from San Francisco.

Ultimately, Leroy picks Nina over Lily, hoping that Nina will grow into the role. But Nina is a psychological wreck. Not only is she paranoid that Lily is trying to undermine her, but she has a confrontation with Leroy's previous protégé, the mentally unstable Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder). Worse still, Nina relationship with her domineering and overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey) deteriorates as she tries to get in touch with her 'darker side' in order to play the Black Swan.

HITS & MISSES: With the narrative presented from 'inside' the conflicted mind of the protagonist, we get some sort of a psychological thriller, complete with a number of scares. Nina sees evil in the mirror, in the faces of strangers - and almost always in herself. Most of the time, we, the audience are kept in a limbo, uncertain whether the events on the screen are really happening or imagined by Nina. As in The Wrestler, we see blood being 'sacrificed' in the name of ballet!

And of course, throughout the film, we are kept enthralled by Portman's rendition of Nina. Hers is a
heart-rending role - playing an artiste obsessed with perfection and trying her utmost to attain it. This should put her in the front line for the Best Actress Oscar. Kunis lends solid support as Lily and her role is to keep us guessing if she is what Nina perceives her to be. Cassel provides the right blend of rogue and bossy charm to his Leroy. The ending is open to interpretation - and an excuse to see the movie again.

THE LOWDOWN: It is not a movie where you get entertained; it is a movie where you get to experience what's in someone's mind.


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