A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan - Princess Odette - but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.
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Robert De Niro
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Nina (Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Hershey) who exerts a suffocating control over her. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side - a recklessness that threatens to destroy her. Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
I was lucky enough to see this at the Austin Film Festival and was absolutely blow away.
Aronofsky is, in many ways, like Nick Cave. You know going in that you are going to get something gritty, raw, and real. You know that, even if it's good, it's going to be hard to process. But when he gets a hold of something, really gets a hold of it, you won't be able to look away, no matter how hard it is to watch. He is a singular filmmaker in the regard that he can create something that is both visceral and cerebral at the same time. Others can do this, but few as well. What he does is never hollow, shallow, or empty, it is always dense, deep, and rich with everything that makes film great.
"Black Swan" is no exception. In many ways this is the most Aronofsky of his films. His style is spot on and works exquisitely with the world he is presenting. It's surprising because he normally shows the dirty, gritty, and ugly places, where as everything in this film is clean and polished. But don't let that fool you, he saved the dirt and grit for the characters. It's remarkable that the man who was able to show the sensitive, and vulnerable side of a wrestler is also able to show the brutal and hard side of a ballerina? For starters, this film looks amazing. The production design, specifically the use of black and white in contrast (don't spend time looking for this, it's everywhere and you will miss something if you do) does it's job without feeling invasive. The lighting is brilliant, as is the staging of the dance scenes. I'm still stunned that the same eye that brought the grainy subway bathroom of "Pi" to life is the same eye that brings all this rich and beautiful color so clearly to the screen.
He also does a brilliant job of creating the world that these characters inhabit. This film reminded me of all the terrible parts of my theater days. The backstabbing, the trash talking, and the two faced nature of that world is portrayed with a deft and brilliant touch. There is a constant fear that you are one mistake away from losing not only your part, but your future parts as well. You feel like you are a part of this world, that he pressure of it is part of your world.
The camera work is great, if a little typical of Aronofsky at times (we see the backs of heads quite a bit, it works, but you see it a lot), but it is very affective. The somewhat jittery, close hand-held shots are perfect and pull you deeper into this world than may be comfortable.
Then there are the name performances. Of the name actors you mostly get what you expect. Portman, Cassel, Hershey, and Rider are outstanding. The only real shock, for me anyway, is Mila Kunis. I know her as Jackie from "That 70's Show," and nothing else. She damned near steals the show. That's right, in a move where she shares screen with Natalie Portman, AND Vincent Cassel she is able to not only hold her own, but walk away with some scenes. The interplay between her wild, unrestrained Lilly, and Portman's frightened, tightly wound Nina creates a brilliant external tension to match, and at times overpower, the internal tension that lies at the very core of Nina.
I have been a fan of Aronofsky's work since I saw "Pi" on it's original theatrical run ( I think I was the only person in the theater for that midnight show), and he has yet to disappoint. He has a definite point of view and a thematic core that runs through his work. Thematically, this is in keeping with most of Aronofsky's work. It's about control and the loss of that control. What happens when a perfectionist control freak is in a position where she HAS to let go of that control? What takes over when she does let go? In typical fashion, Aronofsky shows us that sometimes in striving to get what we want, we risk losing a part of us that we may never be able to get back, and don't realize how desperately we need.
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