Friday, January 28, 2011

Black Swan

                                   Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Yesterday I attended a screening of  the latest Darren Aronofsky film, the controversial  Black Swan. Set in  New York in the gruelling world of  a Ballet company in rehearsal, it’s the story of  Nina  who has to prove herself capable of performing the dual lead role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. The theatrical director thinks  she is too much a perfectionist and although technically  able to perform the part of Odette, the white swan, out of touch with her inner, sexual self  to  perform the role of Odile, the black swan.

It should be remembered that in some ways the dual role of white swan/black swan in Tchaikovsky's perennial masterpiece is the Hamlet role in the ballet world. It requires that the dancer not only projects the pure innocence of the white swan heroine, but also the seductive femme fatale role of the black swan. There's  not too many dramatic roles which demand acting both the goodie and the baddie.

It’s a slow burner of a film which deliberately plays tricks upon the viewer. Natalie Portman’s acting throughout totally engages the audience to empathize with her fate as she confronts her possessive and manipulative mother, jealous peers and predatory director.  Issues such as body image, sexuality, rivalry, madness, obsessiveness and the quest for perfection are explored as Nina’s psyche  slowly unravels under pressure into  a deceptive hallucinatory world.

Natalie Portman has already won numerous awards for her acting in Black Swan and may yet well win more in the coming Oscar season. Personally I feel she deserves to. She acted a  not dissimilar role of  disintegration of personality in Milos Foreman’s 'Goya’s Ghosts' (2006).

 Black Swan has been compared in its decent into paranoia and madness to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion and The Tenant as a psycho-drama. It's as scary as the aforementioned Polanski films in horror and subtle deception of the viewer.  Film critics  however seem to be sharply divided between hate and admiration of Black Swan, some considering Aronofsky’s offering  to be shallow, pretentious and stereotypical in its portrayal of ambitious women, and those who consider it  redeemed by compelling performances  and direction.

 Black Swan shares some of the thematic concerns of Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 ballet film The Red Shoes in its portrait of artistic destruction in the quest for perfection. In essence however Aronofsky's Black Swan is a  horror psycho-drama which exploits the physical and mental pressures of ballet for its own artistic agenda.

                   Prima ballerina Irena Kolesnikova in the role 
                     of the black Swan in  Swan Lake


Tuirgin said...

My wife and I really enjoyed it. I at first felt the constant near-extreme close-up framing was manipulative and gimmicky. Before long, however, I began to realize the purpose for it. I thought Portman's performance was terrific and the story well told. I thought this film used the medium well.

Hydriotaphia said...

Hi Tuirgin!
Great to hear from the busy working-man. Thanks for your observations which i agree with too. What a relief to know the film passed your critical assessment as there seems to be many vitriolic bad reviews also. We shall be further vindicated in our perceptive aesthetic when Portman receives an Oscar for her performance.