Black Swan * * * *
Director: Darren Aronofsky.
Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin.
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Janet Montgomery, Sebastian Stan, Mark Morgolis, Tina Sloan.
Director Darren Aronofsky follows up the sweaty gyms and rings of 2008’s “The Wrestler” with another bleak character study. This time focusing on the dance halls, stages and equally competetive nature of Ballet.
Fragile dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) lives a sheltered, ballet-obsessed life with her over-protective, ex-ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey). When Nina is promoted to prima for a new production of Swan Lake, her director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), urges her to explore her dark side so that she can better embody the dual role of the Swan Queen and the Black Swan. This, combined with her concern over the ambitions of a new arrival at the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), pushes Nina towards breaking point.
Ballet has always been something I have found to be impressive but not entirely appealing or dramatic. That is, until now, with this very dark and gripping psychological horror. Comparisons with Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” will no doubt be made, as both films focus on the struggle of their protanganists’ chosen careers. What is also comparable is the tour de force performances from both lead actors. Like Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”, Natalie Portman’s Oscar winning performance is nothing short of superb. At first, childlike and innocent before transforming into a ruthlessly dark woman, combining commited ambition and fragility with ease. The most obvious tool in conveying conflict within a person is their own reflection and Aronofsky’s use of mirrors here, is excellent. Never overused, just lurking in the backround, exposing the frailty and duality in the character and also deliberately blurring the line between fantasy and reality. His direction is flawless, keeping us close to the action throughout, with very close camerawork and drawing fantastic performances from all his actors. Vincent Cassel oozes confidence and charisma and Barbara Hershey as the controlling mother is especially good and eerily sinister. The ballet scenes are fantastically shot, allowing the tension and melodrama of the plot to unfold – as it rightly should – on stage and delivers a visually splendid punch at just the right time.
Another triumph by Aronofsky and very reflective of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and Portman’s character… dark yet beautiful.