Friday, September 3, 2010

Review of Black Swan

Natalie Portman at the Venice Film festival 2010 premier of Black Swan

The New York Times
September 2, 2010

Venice Festival Opens With Glimpses Into the Pitfalls of Passion

VENICE — Darren Aronofsky’s in-competition movie “Black Swan” opened the 67th Venice International Film Festival on Wednesday night. Having won the Golden Lion two years ago with “The Wrestler,” could Mr. Aronofsky repeat the unprecedented double break of Ang Lee, who has twice carried off the top prize, first in 2005 and again in 2007? Probably not.

“Black Swan” takes us into the ballet world and explores the huge physical and emotional demands it makes on a star performer. So, Powell and Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes” revisited? Not quite. “The Red Shoes” was, of course, inspired by a fairy tale, a story full of colorful fantasy, set in a sophisticated, glamorous, international world of grand hotels and limousines, tracing the trajectory of a prima ballerina at the height of her career spiraling toward a tragic end.

“Black Swan” is not about a prima ballerina, but an aspiring one, who travels on the New York subway and commutes to and from a cluttered and cramped apartment she lives in with her mother. Nina (Natalie Portman) is picked out of the corps de ballet to replace the previous in-house star Beth (Winona Ryder), who has been rather brutally traded in by the sexual-predator who is the director of the ballet company, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), for a younger, fitter, sleeker model to lead in the season’s opening production, “Swan Lake.”

Thomas sees Nina as ideal for the role of the White Swan in Tchaikovsky’s ballet — technically she cannot be faulted as a dancer — but he has doubts as to whether she can rise emotionally to the task of conveying the necessary seductive malevolence of the Black Swan.

Much of the film takes place not on the stage, but in the rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms, bathrooms and corridors in the bowels of the theater. These settings are very effectively used in the darkly contrasted monochrome design and cinematography of the film, conveying the claustrophobic life of an institution that seems as glamour-free as ancient Spartan barracks.

Home life for Nina is no picnic either. Her mother (Barbara Hershey) is a former dancer who cultivates the myth that she has sacrificed her own career for the sake of her daughter, through whom she is now living an entirely vicarious life. But emotionally immature, vulnerable and sexually repressed Nina, in her obsessive determination to dance the part of the Swan Queen, is driven more and more to challenge her mother’s sinisterly stifling and intrusive control.

Nina’s insecurities intensify when a new ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis), arrives from San Francisco. Sassy, worldly-wise, promiscuous, a rule-breaker, Lily catches the eye of Thomas as a possible natural candidate for the Black Swan role. So the rivalry between the two dancers — or at least Nina’s perception of rivalry — begins to take on dangerous proportions.

The movie is billed as a psychological thriller but the psychology is as monochrome as the settings and characterization. There are scenes of masturbation and sapphic sex, which are sure to get the movie talked about. The cast is dominated by women, but the view of them is stereotypical and unflattering, since the principal characters (except perhaps Lily) seem paranoid, hysterical, underhanded or manipulative, if not frankly deranged. And the climax of the film is as inevitable as it is implausible.”

Personal comment: This review has been edited to post only the review of Black Swan. The setting in rehearsal studios, cramped hallways and less that palatial NYC apartments is very realistic as is the mental pull of competing emotions within a dancer. Regardless of how confident one seems on the outside there is always a need to get into your dance space mentally where you focus only on being the character in the role and let muscle memory and the music take over.

Nina (Natalie Portman) being picked out of the corps to dance Odette/Odile is a huge stretch (but this is Hollywood) because the demands on stamina, technique and emotional range of the dual role are so great. In some companies the role is divided when a single dancer isn’t up to the demands of both, but doing that advertises both the limitations of the dancer and the lack of depth of talent in the company. In a major company that would never happen unless the ballerina in the role for that performance became injured. Perhaps the AD is using Lily (Mila Kunis) as a motivator for Nina to push her to her limit by considering Lily for the role of Odile. You think?

Competing dancers sometimes do play mind games with each other, but from what we know about the plot it seems Nina is being mind-fucked by so many of her circle; her mother, the Artistic Director and Lily, her rival for the role, that she should be on a mental contraceptive. Will Lily have enough time to harden Nina mentally and bring out her darker side with the malevolence necessary to portray Odile effectively? I can’t wait to see the film and find out!


  1. Jill, Your remarks on 'The Red Shoes'.... I remember watching it for the first time a few years ago and being totally awe-inspired. Certainly left its mark on me. I often wonder if we'll ever see its like again.

    Do you have a list of your favourites from, say, the past 10 years?...


  2. Paul, I don't know if there have been that many good dance movies from the last 10 years that Jill really recommends. The only ones that I can see are fomulaic films like the "Step Up" and "Save the Last Dance" films.

    Jill, I would be curious to see how Natalie Portman portrays this role. Of course, I mostly remember her for playing Padme Amadala in the Star Wars prequel trillogy. She got her star turn from those films and became a "geek goddess" with the likes of Carrie Fisher (Leia in the original Star Wars series), Nichelle Nichols (the original Uhura in Star Trek), Zoe Saldana (the new Uhura, Neytiri from "Avatar") and Angelina Jolie (Lara Croft). Ever thought of getting into a major sci-fi film and become a "geek goddess" in pointes?

  3. Hi Paul, All the ballet films that I like (there haven't been that many) are: The Red Shoes, Black Tights, Tales of Hoffmann and The Turning Point.

  4. Hi Eric… Me, as a geek goddess! LOL! Now a dominatrix in pointes is something else entirely!

    But seriously, I like men lusting after me one at a time and spilling their fluids in and on me individually where they can meet MY needs as well as their own. It’s amazing what that sort of thing does for a girl’s ego! The scent, taste, feel and sounds made by a human male are just so amazing! I just want to roll in the testosterone ladened scent of a man. I’m CD9 and fertile, but you can tell that by what I wrote, can’t you? I find being one-on-one with a man in a sexual encounter far more satisfying than ever being a digital goddess inhabiting the universe as a stream of electrically charged particles.

  5. Eric/Jill, Thought that may be the case! I prefer the classics too! Although I have still to watch 'The Sleeping Beauty' from 2008 with Lauren Cuthbertson who I really admire.

    Jill, your last paragraph (7:19PM post) - wow, talking of electrically charged particles - we can change that for some electro play maybe?



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Powys , Wales, United Kingdom
I'm a classically trained dancer and SAB grad. A Dance Captain and go-to girl overseeing high-roller entertainment for a major casino/resort