Black Swan

I saw Black Swan a while ago. But I was asked to sign a piece of paper that said a lot of things – mostly in dense legalese. As such, I wasn’t sure that I Was allowed to say anything too much about the film until now.
As it happens I loved it, and wanted to shout about it as soon as possible. But that was a month ago, and it’s still a couple of weeks from being released in the UK.
Black Swan tells the story of a ballerina, Nina, played by Natalie Portman. She lives with her mother, Erica, played with fabulous venom by Barbara Hershey. Nina dreams of dancing the lead, but she has to deal with her troupe’s French director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel).
With the last lead dancer, Beth (Winona Ryder), having been discarded, Nina is possibly in line to take over. Although there is newcomer Lilly (Mila Kunis) to consider.
Back at her small Manhattan apartment that she shares with her mother, Nina seems to live and dream ballet. Her room seems to be more like that of a 10 year old girl than a grown woman in her twenties.
That’s the basic plot outline. But this is a Darren Aronofsky film, so nothing is quite as it seems. After the relative “normality” of The Wrestler, Black Swan plunges us back into the semi-real where nothing is entirely clear to us. From the opening dream sequence in which Nina is dancing the Black Swan, a reality distortion field is placed over the entire film.
As we go deeper into the film, we realise that we’re seeing everything from Nina’s point of view, and that’s not an entirely reliable point of view.
This film in many ways reminds me of Aronofsky’s breakthrough piece Pi, as well as its follow up, Requiem for a Dream. We get his trademark slick cuts and terrific sound effects. Throw into the mix some very subtle, but incredibly clever effects, and you have a terrific mix.
The music is – perhaps obviously – terrific. Only at the very end of the film are the more familiar themes from Swan Lake dwelt on. I must admit that I hadn’t actually realised quite how long a piece Swan Lake actually is!
Portman is stunning. If she’s not nominated for just about every acting award going then nobody deserves to win awards this year. She throws herself wholeheartedly into the role and obviously worked hard at the ballet sequences. While they’re often shot from her waste upwards, that’s not always the case. And she certainly has the physique of a ballerina.
One area the film never shys away from are the rigours of being a ballerina. To that end, it shares traits with The Wrestler which also avoided sugar-coating the “glamour” of wrestling. From the cracking of bones, to the binding of injured feet, it’s all out there for us.
At times this film is a horror film too. We get lots of very grisly sequences, and when the lights go out in the rehearsal halls, a certain Italian horror director’s work does come to mind. The film also brings to mind Roman POlanski’s classic Repulsion. And that’s a good thing.
Anyway, this is an essential piece, and probably my favourite film by Aronofsky to date.