TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride Review: Darren Aronofsky's Magnificent 'Black Swan'
by Alex Billington
September 5, 2010
Wow. Now I know who I'm going to be rooting for to win the Best Actress Oscar next year. I just stepped out of Black Swan, the latest movie from Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) up in Telluride, and it was phenomenal. I'm hesitant to really delve too much into a full-on review because this is only my initial reaction and I definitely need to see the film a second (or third) time to fully process everything in it, but I have to at least proclaim that it is a brilliant, psychologically intense film that takes the audience on a very operatic thrill ride. I truly believe Aronofsky has outdone himself once again.
Black Swan has been described by Aronofsky as a companion film to The Wrestler, and we wrote last week that both actually originated from one idea. Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a young aspiring ballet dancer who has been practicing tirelessly in hopes of winning the lead in director Thomas Leroy's (played superbly by Vincent Cassel) newest production of Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake. Not only is she dealing with the immense stress of the production and her desire for perfection, but she lives with her retired ballet dancer and overbearing mother, all of which begins to take an extreme toll on her. She starts to see duplicates of herself and begins to have odd, twisted visions - but is it real or is it all in her head? (I won't answer that.)
What I think Aronofsky has achieved with Black Swan is a mesmerizing and utterly brilliant fusion of two performance mediums - theater (specifically ballet) and film - in an extraordinary way that I believe we've never seen before. And it might take repeat viewings for everyone to fully understand and fall completely into that fresh cinematic world that he's created. It also builds over time, as we follow the story and Nina's transformation, since she goes through quite a bit in preparing for the lead role as the Swan Queen; she's great at dancing as the White Swan, but needs to be more seductive to dance the Black Swan role perfectly. While I was already into it from the beginning, it was the third act that truly pushed me over the edge and gave me a rush I haven't experienced in a while.
It's the combination of Natalie Portman's remarkable performance, which I think deserves an Oscar, as well as Clint Mansell's score, which was a phenomenal re-interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake music, that helped pull the film much further into that cinema-ballet world. The film itself could even actually be seen as a ballet, it's that well-written and structured, and it leads to a conclusion as perfect as in The Wrestler. Even Mila Kunis, who plays a rival ballet dancer named Lilly, is better than she's ever been before. And that scene with her and Portman you've probably heard so much about is totally worth seeing, and it's only one of the many sexual motifs that are prevalent throughout Black Swan.
I can't praise this film enough, and I can't wait to watch it again. Even if anyone walks out a bit confused or emotionless the first time, let it soak in, see it again, give some extra time to process what you saw, and I'm sure it will grow on you. It's sometimes dark, it's often intense, but not too frightening (at least I thought). It's a great psychological thriller and a wild ride, and I enjoyed every second. Aronofsky's iconic hand-held shots are used frequently, but not to any disadvantage. Portman's performance is unforgettable, Mansell's score is wonderful, Darren's direction is masterful, it's a film that will stay with me for a long time. Bravo.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 9.5 out of 10