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Black Swan

January 23, 2011

Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Actors: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel

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Synopsis: Obsessive New York ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) wins the main part in a production of ‘Swan Lake’, but her mental state begins to disintegrate.

Review: On paper, the premise for Black Swan must have seemed rife with cinematic potential – a highly-strung New York ballerina unravelling as she prepares for her big break as the lead in a version of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’. There are two obvious directions a filmmaker could have taken with this material: to exploit it for an entertaining shockfest, or to probe deeper and fashion a subtler and more troubling psychodrama. That Darren Aronofksy settles for the first option isn’t necessarily to the film’s detriment as he does a fine job within that limited remit.

Black Swan is one of the most absurd and luridly enjoyable dramas I’ve seen for a long time, and Aronofksy throws absolutely every trick he can muster at the material – from the feverish handheld cameras that stalk Portman’s ballerina at every turn, to the creation of a world and mise en scène that is entirely claustrophobic and subterranean (we barely leave the twin realms of Portman’s dark and airless apartment she shares with her oppressive mother, and the gloomy corridors of her ballet company’s headquarters).

Natalie Portman gives her all in a role that, though slightly one-dimensional (“look disturbed and stressed”), must have been exhausting and a physical tour de force. My only lament is that if you look at borderline similar work David Lynch did with Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, you realise that a more refined and complex approach to the material would have got what Aronofksy was presumably looking for – a genuinely disturbing film and something that understands the true dark heart of artistic drive and the quest for perfection. Sure, Aronofksy’s low-fi shocks and about-turns are entertaining, but by the time he has ratcheted them up to full throttle at the film’s climax, the sheer level of absurdity had broken my powers of disbelief, and I was more inclined to chuckle than be awed. (January 2010)

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