Black Swan

30 Jan

Director: Darren Aronofsky (2010)

I’m not going to lie; it took me a while to recover from Requiem for a Dream. That final scene is just too hard to shake. As such Aronofsky has concreted his reputation as something of a surrealist film director, unafraid to push those boundaries and make an audience feel so uncomfortable it seems the only feasible option is to crawl out of one’s own skin and use it as a blanket to shield one’s eyes from the terrors taking place on screen.

So when it was revealed that Aronofsky’s latest venture was to be a stylised ballet film featuring the beautiful Natalie Portman, the world was understandably rather surprised. And intrigued. It’s premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in September 2010 sent rumours flying around the movie world – and reassuring Aronofsky fans that he had indeed not descended into the mainstream making a film for tweens with dreams of pirouetting on the big stage. There would be lesbians. Masturbation. Unadulterated terror.

That’s more like the Aronofsky we know and love.

My main qualm with Black Swan was that, as with many films that premiere at these major film festivals, by the time it came for me – the lowly public – to see the film, the anticipatory lead up had pretty much told me the entire plot, the quirks and which scenes not to watch with my Grandma. Or indeed a friend who was still under the illusion that this was just a film about stressed ballerinas…

While this certainly did detract slightly from the initial enjoyment, I got over it. Black Swan is stunning. Call me a bandwagon jumper but I don’t care. Perfectly framed with lighting, music and style, whether it be the actors’ bodies or the costumes which  cover them, each shot in Black Swan is like a photographic still, poised and preened but bursting with energy and movement.

Natalie Portman spent a year training to be a prima ballerina for her role as Nina, the determined and talented dancer who’s White Swan takes her audiences’ breath away while her Black Swan leave them, well….somewhat flaccid. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis), a ballerina so bad ass she has swan wings tattooed on her back, dances with her hair down and chews gum. Watch yourself, Nina.

The plot is initially rather typical for ballet movie narratives – pushy mum, dancer wants to be the Swan in Swan Lake, competing against her ‘friends’, jealously – the usual. In itself, this risks becoming a Noel Streatfield sequel, but instead, Aronofsky and his love of extended metaphors transforms these bare bones into a frankly terrifying psychological thriller. We aren’t talking Requiem but I am sure going to think twice before taking to the stage in a tutu with Natalie Portman… For many reasons, but mainly because the girl is a crazy person.

Consumed by her role and her commitment to perfect her Black Swan, prompted by the sexual prod given to her by dance teacher, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), Nina descends into a hallucinatory world which could only have been crafted by Aronofsky, as she works her lithe body to its core as she becomes the Swan Queen. With Lily chomping at the bit (and in a certain scene, not just her ‘bit’) life and art begin to blur as Nina’s Black Swan slowly starts to manifest itself off the stage…

While some believe the not-so-subtle extended metaphor that carries the film is too suffocating to become frightening, I would reverently disagree. Aronofsky never denied the presence of the metaphor; it is there to be celebrated in taffeta, broken bones and blood.

Sometimes it is easy to neglect a film that is so shrouded in hype and media coverage (See: The King’s Speech) but in the case of Black Swan, believe it, go see it. And then think twice about sending that application to Rambert…

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