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When I saw the trailer for Black Swan a couple of weeks ago, I knew immediately that it was a film I wanted to see.
Nina is an aspiring ballet dancer, who, after years of being overlooked, has been cast for the part of the Swan Queen - she must play both the White Swan and the Black Swan. Despite her perfect technique, there are doubts over whether she has it in her to play the evil black swan. Nina has to visit her dark side and overcome the fear that other dancers are out to get her, in particular newcomer Lily.
Cast & Characters
Nina - Natalie Portman The main character Nina is portayed by Natalie Portman. I'm not really hugely familiar with her work, I've only seen her in short clips on TV or in trailers, but I could see that she was perfect in the role of Nina, a determined and highly competent dancer (well, I'm no expert, but you can see that she's supposed to be) who is fragile and lacks confidence in her abilities, always striving for absolute perfection.I always wonder for these films why it is that they don't choose someone who is already trained in the skill - in this case ballet - but of course that wouldn't be a very Hollywood thing to do, and most viewers wouldn't really notice the difference. Natalie Portman did spend the best part of year training for this role and from what I've read and heard from experts she is pretty darn good considering. Apparently her footwork could do with some work, but for someone who has no real knowledge of ballet, I was satisified with her performances and pretty darn impressed. Ballet performance aside, the rest of her performance was flawless. I genuinely believed she was this emotional wreck and saw her transform before my eyes, from this weak, fragile girl to something quite different at the end of the film. There are several Oscar-winning performances in films I have seen this year, but Natalie Portman's portrayal of Nina is certainly one of them.
Nina's mother - Barbara Hershey I had read somewhere prior to this film that Nina's mother was pushy and overbearing, a quality I didn't really pick up on in the beginning. Her mother's character saught to show how Nina has become the way she is - although her mother is nuturing and encourages Nina, she suffocates her by treating her like a child and not letting her grow. As an audience we can feel her resentment and hurt that her career was essentially cut short by the birth of Nina and though her pride as a mother for her daughter's achievements is clear, the subtle ways in which her mother put her down when she didn't get the roles she had hoped for was almost heartbreaking. Barbara Hershey also brought out the controlling side of Nina's mother very well. Overall, I thought this was another role played to perfection - she wasn't a character you disliked, but it was plain to see that her treatment of Nina wasn't helping her. The physical ressemblance between the two characters also helped make it more believable, but their relationship was a very complex and believable one.
Thomas Leroy - Vincent Cassel Vincent Cassel is an incredibly well-known actor in his native France, but has also become known as someone who plays a lot of villain roles in American films. I found his role in this one to be an extremely interesting one. I read one article that described him as played the 'sexually deviant' director of the Swan Lake production, Thomas Leroy. In fact the majority of articles and reviews I've read of this film portray him as a bit of a lecherous, sleazy guy but I don't quite agree with this.
I mean there definitely was an element of sleaze there, don't get me wrong and he definitely does tow the line on more than occasion but I found his motives were deeper. Although it in no way excuses his somewhat bizarre techniques, I felt as though his advances on Nina were more to bring out her Black Swan, although we do get a hint that he treated his previous star, Beth, played by Winona Ryder in much the same way, only to cast her aside when she started to lose it. Once again, he was a character whose actions and motives were so complex that I found myself again, not disliking him. I was intrigued by him and wanted to know what did motivate him. I was often surprised by his actions - expecting him to act like the opportunist pervert at times when he did not. Vincent Cassel plays the role again to perfection - he pulls of the arrogance that a director for such a show would need. He has that real knack for ignoring characters - we see Nina desperate to please him, desperate to show her that she can be the Black Swan and Lily attracting all of his attention without even trying. It's effortless really and I really enjoyed the je ne sais quoi that this Frenchman brought to the role.
Lily - Mila Kunis Mila Kunis, of That 70's Show and Family Guy (she voices Meg) fame, was another perfect casting for this film. She plays Lily, a new dancer at the company who out of nowhere appears to be vying with Nina for the role of the Black Swan. From the get go, Nina is suspicious of her and nervous around her, and very soon we see that she is justified in this. Or is she? Once again, Lily is a very complex character with a two-faceted role. At times we can believe she is nice and really is looking out for Nina, at other times we doubt her sincerity and see a much darker side to her. The play on light and dark on all characters is a really clever idea and Mila Kunia, in particular, pulls this off to perfection.
Beth - Winona Ryder Beth is perhaps one of the only characters whose light side we don't really see. Coming to the end of her glittering career, Beth is slowly driven insane by her desire to get Thomas to notice her again. Her character is incredibly dark and 95% of the time we see her on screen, she has a mad bird's nest-style hair do and/or mascara halfway down her face. Winona Ryder get this role spot on too, and while most of the time I found myself scared of what she was going to do - you could really feel her anger bubbling up inside of her - you slowly started to feel a little bit sorry for her as you realise what she had been through and the similarities that were starting to appear between her and Nina.
Overall I thought the casting was absolutely spot on. Everyone was fantastic in their roles and I believed each and every character. The interactions between those characters too, were highly believeable, in my opinion.
I must admit that I am not familiar with Darren Aronofksy's work, so I can't compare to any other titles. At the beginning of the film I wasn't a huge fan of the direction, I must admit, but by the end of the film I actually had a real appreciation for the techniques used when filming and the result.
To explain why I didn't like it at first - I found it a bit quirky and jumpy. The camera seemed to follow Natalie Portman as though almost perched on her shoulder - I found this a little off-putting. During her dance scenes, it focused quite a lot of just upper body shots, where I would have liked to see full body shots - when someone is dancing, you don't just want to see their face. However, these close-up shots were important in capturing Natalie Portman's emotions, which she expressed brilliantly and full body dancing shots did feature greatly in the rest of the film. In the beginning I just feared that they were trying to hide her feet, later I realised that this wasn't the case.
Close-ups were used to great effect, and we were often shown things in the way that Nina may have experienced them - the spinning shots when she was dancing or the flashing shots in a nightclub - where you could occasionally make out faces but mostly it was just blurred people dancing, heightening our appreciation of Nina's intoxicated state.
I felt that music was used to great effect too. Obviously with a ballet production, music was an important part of that, but music was used to build up suspense, and more noticeably the lack of music. Often the music would build up as though something were about to happen and stop very abruptly. I also found that sound effects of cars - background city noises - were used to good effect to show Nina's hurried, confused state when out and about.
The costumes deserve a quick mention - admittedly we only see the full production costumes at the end but I loved all of them. For the rest of the film it's just typical ballet attire - I always wondered why some ballet dancers only wear one leg warmer? Answers on a postcard (or in a comment please). There are some small uses of special effects, but I wouldn't go into too much detail about those as it would give away too much I feel. These are impressive and really add to the atmosphere of the film, particularly the climax.
Overall, I felt that this film was wonderfully put together and I wouldn't hesistate to watch another film by this director.
I absolutely loved this film. One of the main reasons I like this film so much as that it wasn't a love affair from the first five minutes. I didn't get into the film straight away. I distinctly remember thinking somewhere in the first hour that this film was strange and that I felt quite ambivalent to it. I didn't dislike it, but it left me feeling a bit strange. I couldn't say quite when the turning point was, but it was a real turning point. I feel like the film's story is much like the Ugly Duckling in reverse - Nina starts out as this beautiful, fragile dancer and turns into something quite different, while the film itself is like the Ugly Duckling - it started off very lukewarm for me and then became something beautiful. There were a lot of small elements in the film which confused me or drew my attention and I wondered why that was the case. For example, I found it strange that I had noticed Nina taking her earrings out about 5 times in the space of about 15 minutes. It surely can't be an integral part of the story, so why did I notice it? I found things like that a little off-putting, and other elements a little confusing, like not being able to decide if Nina was harming herself on purpose or what was happening to her, but I feel confident that these parts were designed to be thought about and interpreted and that was an element of the film that, by the end, I really liked.I felt that these elements really helped draw me into the film, as well as the amazing acting. I found myself reacting to the film, gasping in horror when you see what dancing does to her feet and certain aspects of her self-harming. I even found myself welling up at certain points of the film. It's a film that really pulls you in, emotionally it's very raw and you really feel those emotions yourself. There is also a slight horror element at the beginning, with reflections in the subway and shadows in underpasses, but the film very quickly moves away from this. I've spoken to people who had apprehensions about seeing the film because it looks scary - the truth is that it is dark and deals with strong emotions, but it's not a horror film.
Black Swan has a 15 rating and I feel that this is appropriate. The language used is fairly tame, I think there's the odd swear word in there but nothing terrible. The main reason for the rating has to be the sex scenes which are fairly graphic, it has to be said. There is also some blood and a fairly horrific moment when Nina pulls at a bit of skin that she chewed in her anxiety - kind of like a hangnail. That really made me grimace but all of the other scenes of this nature were fine.
Fellas, don't be put off by the fact that it's ballet. This is not a girly film. Au contraire, I can imagine most men would be happy to watch Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis stretching and what have you...
I shall say no more.
Really though, it is a film for almost everyone - if you have a particular love of ballet then this film may particularly appeal and if you have knowledge about ballet you may be able to comment more on Portman and Kunis' dance abilities. I know it's 'ruffled a few feathers' (to use that rather overused pun of late) in the ballet world but really, like most films, you have to take it with a pinch of salt. Sure, it draws on stereotypes which have plagued the balleting world for years but it never claims to be a documentary. For me, it focuses more on this idea of the black swan in all of us - as well as this ugly duckling-style transformation. Psychological thriller is definitely the right genre.
I do thoroughly recommend this film and it is one that I would watch again. It does take a while to get going, but it is worth it! There's no specific reason to see it at the cinema, other than not having to wait for it to come out on DVD!
Production Year: 2000 - Drama - Director: Matt Williams - Original Language: English - Classification: 12 years and over - Starring: James Frain, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Natalie Portman, Dylan Bruno