Cannes Review: 'Carol' Exposes Raw Truths & Powerful Performances
by Marco Cerritos
May 21, 2015
Reporting from the Cannes Film Festival. Director Todd Haynes is best known for making the 2002 theatrical feature Far from Heaven and the HBO miniseries "Mildred Pierce", two works that probed deep into human emotion and hidden desires. His latest is the equally effective Carol, an unofficial companion piece that focuses on forbidden love in the 1950's and delivers top-notch performances from its two female leads. This should come as no surprise since Haynes is used to getting great performances from his actresses but this might be the first time the two ladies in question are so strong that they command the entire movie.
Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel "The Price of Salt", Haynes' Carol begins at a slow pace carefully setting up its characters and the time period. The year is 1952 and it's Christmas in New York, Therese Belivet (played by Rooney Mara) is a homely department store clerk with a non-existent social life and little to do expect punch a clock. Wealthy socialite Carol Aird (played by Cate Blanchett) is the exact opposite, commanding attention wherever she goes and flaunting her influence whenever necessary.
Their paths meet when Carol is in need of a Christmas gift for her young daughter and sizes up the modest clerk. After a playful banter, an opening for a second meeting is exposed and the two women begin a casual interaction. Therese may look innocent but she's not stupid, the more they meet the more she knows what the older and more sophisticated Carol is suggesting and although social norms are not on her side (this is the 1950's after all), her curiosity and monotony are more than enough inspiration to take a chance.
There are more than suggestive hints at a lesbian romance in the first act of Carol but even though we know where the story is headed, Haynes is an experienced storyteller who knows how to take his time and lay the groundwork just right for maximum impact. This isn't just the story of two women seducing each other physically and intellectually but rather an examination on a deeper level. Carol and Therese come from different backgrounds but their attraction and curiosity with each other grows over the film's running time. As the more grounded and experienced of the two, Carol is also the bigger flirt despite having a young daughter and angry husband back at home. He's an uptight businessman tired of turning a blind eye to his wife's indiscretions and as played by Kyle Chandler, the sadness in the man's eyes as he confronts his cheating and conflicted wife make for some of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movie.
Early audiences at Cannes were quick to dismiss Carol as a female Brokeback Mountain and while that might technically be true in superficial terms, the movie is much more than that simple logline. Haynes has crafted an elegant story of love and loss during a time when social norms were anything but liberal. Other notable standouts include Sandy Powell's elaborate costume design and Carter Burwell's sensual score, two crucial puzzle pieces that help elevate the movie beyond its performances. Carol is a lock for many end of the year awards but none are more deserving than Blanchett and Mara. Both women are at the heart of this story and any mention of one cannot be complete without the other. With a career that has already spanned several masterpieces, it's certainly saying something that Carol might be Todd Haynes' best film.
Marco's Cannes 2015 Rating: A
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