Sunday, January 2, 2011

BLACK SWAN (2010)

Written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin


Directed by Darren Aronofsky


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas  Hollywood, CA. December 19, 2010 1:40PM


We admire the seemingly effortless graceful moves and the strong beautiful bodies of the ballet dancer but what we don't witness is what is required of these performers to get to this point. All of the years of painful, bleeding feet, broken bones, the lack of sleep and food and the mental anguish that must be endured (and ignored ) so that they are able to do what they love for a very brief period of time. "Black Swan" is set behind the scenes in that world of dance but instead of the usual way we see it as soft and fluid, this film presents ballet as dark and edgy.

Nina (Natalie Portman), is a ballet dancer for a New York City company who is very focused but is timid and keeps to herself. She has dreamed of performing the lead of "Swan Lake"and has learned that the opportunity might just happen after it's announced that the aging prima ballerina (Winona Ryder) has been encouraged to go into retirement. The ballet's director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) has the company's dancers audition for the part.

After Nina's audition fails to impress Thomas, she goes to him later to ask for another chance. He explains that she has the skills to perform the White Swan but lack the passion to play the Black Swan. Thomas makes a sexual advance on Nina and she reacts violently. Thinking that her chance is now over. Nina is very surprised to learn that she has won the role.

The first person Nina calls with the news is her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), who gave up her own dreams of being a ballet dancer to have her daughter. The two share a tiny apartment in the city and Nina's room has remained exactly the same since she was a little girl. Filled with stuffed animals and a music box that is played when she's upset, Nina hasn't been allowed to grow-up as her mother wants to continue to control her career. Although Nina didn't seem to mind before but now, with the growing demands of her challenging role, wants to manage her own life.

During rehearsals, Thomas keeps pushing Nina to let herself go in order to properly portray the Black Swan but as a result of her drive for perfection, she is having great difficulty releasing her darker side. Lily (Mila Kunis), another dancer in the company, is not technically as strong as Nina but she's a wild spirit who dances with powerful passion. Lily tries to befriend Nina but she's not interested.. Eventually breaking the ice one night, Lily gets Nina to let loose with the help of drugs, booze and boys. After Lily manages to become Nina's alternate, this makes her extremely paranoid. Is she trying to steal her role or is Lily simply trying to help? With the pressure becoming too much, Nina begins to slowly lose a grip on reality. She begins hallucinating, convinced that her body is morphing into something dark and sinister. As opening night approaches, Nina is now completely unhinged,  unable to tell what is real, who to believe or who she can trust.

"Black Swan" has been heavily praised by many critics and has been nominated for plenty of awards but I really don't get what all of the fuss is all about. Perhaps it's just me but I was not so enthralled by Mr. Aronofsky's particularly hyper-melodramatic vision of watching a dancer suffer for her art and succumb to madness, no matter how technically superior the work may be. Mr. Aronofsky certainly has made some intense and thrilling films like "Requiem For A Dream" and the 2008 film, "The Wrestler" but he is also capable of middling and confusing work such as "The Fountain" (2006) which "Black Swan" falls somewhere in between.

"Black Swan" feels very similar to Roman Polanski's 1965 film, "Repulsion" which starred Catherine Denueve as a disturbed young woman who slowly starts to withdraw from society and begins to hallucinate disturbing things happening to her but I feel the same way about this film as I do about "Black Swan" where after a while all of these dream sequences just feel overdone and grow tiresome.

You can see all of the hard work Ms Portman put in to look believable as a dancer and she is quite good as the mentally fragile Nina although the life of a dancer who doesn't eat properly and pushes her body to the extreme limit might make anyone a little nutty. Mr. Cassel makes a great impression as the sleazy director and it was very nice to see two veteran actresses who we haven't seen much on the big screen of late; Although she doesn't look like she has ever been on a ballet stage, Ms Ryder delivers a perfectly high pitch performance as the tossed aside diva while Ms Hershey is terrific in the small but vital role as Nina's clingy mother.

"Black Swan" is filled with impressive acting, strong direction and stunning visuals but the film as a whole is just too bogged down with too much mega-manic excess to be able to soar.