Friday, 18 March 2011

Black Swan

Performing ballet is a very high risk way of earning ones living even excluding the obvious stress and the backstabbing there’s the physical injury to the dancer’s body and like some performance sports you can only “play” for so long. At the heart of Darren Aronofsky sensational fifth movie Black Swan (2010) is Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake where it’s expected that the same dancer would play both the White Swan and the Black Swan. This is the dilemma that confronts Nina Sayers, told by impresario Thomas Leroy that she is obvious choice for the role of the White Swan but her frigid sexual nature precludes her from playing the Black Swan. Nina’s obsession with playing the Swan Queen forces her to go deep into her psyche to discover her inner Black Swan, she begins to experience unknown aspects of her personality all mirrored by this almost gothic world of dance.

On one level it is a terrifying psychological thriller; on another it shows brilliantly the world of the ballerina from inside the mind of one of its performers. A study of insanity and obsession seen through the eyes of a young woman who has a driving ambition but a low self esteem. This superb piece of modern film making stars Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, who quite rightly won the Oscar for Best Actress at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards in February, the great Paris born actor Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy, with Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder in major supporting roles.

This film completely blew me away and I seriously think this is the best English language film after Winters Bone (2010) and I’m surprised it did not win Darren Aronofsky the Oscar for Best Director. This sensual and somewhat erotic movie harps back to the ethos of the Thatcher era when success must be achieved at all costs. All of us are flawed and we all have split personalities to some degree which I think is why Aronofsky allows us empathies with the Nina Sayers character even when she plummets to the depths of her own personnel darkness. Powell and Pressburger raised the bar for ballet films with their 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes but Aronofsky has taken the “bar” out of sight with his best film to date.

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