Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ugly ducklings not included: My 'Black Swan' review

Black Swan nominated for Best
Picture at the 83rd Annual
Academy awards. But
did it deserve to be there?
For weeks I had been dying to watch 'Black Swan' but was too scared to do so after having 'Requiem of a Dream' scar me for months. Facebook friends were full of praise for the movie except one person who said, " I was a bit bored. Once I understood that the weird sounds indicate that a scene is only some crazy thing in her head, I was wondering why the director chose to give us cues that elude to "reality" within those scenes. I imagined that he was as bored making another ballet movie as most of his audience was, having to watch it...",

Then I had to watch it.

Black Swan is about a ballerina, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) who has been dancing for years. People call her frigid but she's seeking perfection. When the studio's prime dancer, Beth (Winona Ryder) is sent pirouetting off stage, Sayers is given the chance to play the swan queen in the ballet, Swan Lake; a role that demands her to be both the innocent love-struck white swan and the menacingly evil and seductive black swan. She has the innocent perfect queen down to an art, but she needs to 'break loose' to perform the role of the evil twin.

Yes, I admit, it was slow, predictable and capable of so much more... But I still loved it. I love the way that Aronofsky manipulates the visual medium to illustrate exactly how a character feels and sees the world. The quick cuts of vivid imagery and short scenes with minimal exposition kept me engrossed but the slow pace and paper thin plot made me impatient and anxious rather than allowing to me enjoy the film fully. The rapid close ups and jolted sequences have become Aronofsky's signature style which I feel he employed more effectively in his earlier movies such as 'Requiem of a Dream' and 'Pi' (not that Aronofsky is the only director to utilise this style, 'Perfume', 'Precious', 'Fight Club' and most Guy Ritchie films come to mind as visually brilliant).

'Black Swan', being a ballet film, is an acquired taste. The obsessed ballerina has also appeared in reels of films making it a tad clich├ęd and, according to some professional ballet dancers, stereotypical. The horror elements in the film make the movie riveting despite them being retro and sparse, however these elements are the only things that keep the film from fading into the abyss of forgotten psychological thrillers.

I was surprised to learn that Portman was not a ballet dancer but instead trained and dieted obsessively, almost to the extent that her character does. I think this removed the authenticity of the character and left the professional dancer despondent, if not jealous. Then again, having Portman in the film did attract audiences. 

My friend described her performance as "Padme in a tutu with only two facial expressions." I think that her performance was great but her written character was lacking in depth with her motivations unexplored. The extreme psycho mother was also suddenly dropped conveniently where the plot needed her to be psycho but she was never explored or part of the story.

'Black Swan' is a good film, but it's not Aronofsky's greatest and, in my opinion, not worth the huge hype. It's a string of great elements, experimental technique and story-telling and surprising performances but it fails at being anything more than that. It leaves the audience thinking by leaving holes in the story for them to fill but doesn't give them anything concrete to make them come back and find.



I love this scene where her arms grow feathers and turn into huge
black wings. It's kitsch but oh so cool:)
 


Thursday, February 10, 2011