Black Swan (USA; 107 min.)

directed by: Darren Aronofsky
starring: Natalie Portman; Mila Kunis; Vincent Cassel; Barbara Hershey; Winona Ryder; Benjamin Millepied
Black Swan

Ibad says: "Vincent Cassell informs his group of New York City ballet dancers that he's going to stage the old staple of ballet, Swan Lake. But it's going to be different. It's gonna be stripped down, visceral, real.

"He chooses Natalie Portman's character Nina Sayers; a shy, self-conscious and quaint figure. An ambitious dreamer. The first half of Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN kind of plays out like her character. It misses some steps trying to get the story along, a lot of it is really very obvious. No real depth. Barbara Hershey's role as Nina's mother is perfectly chilling in its own right, but she's not allowed much depth to delve into. Vincent Cassell's Tomas' sleaze is really rather one-dimensional. His humanity hardly present.

"Portman, however, is already the best we've ever seen her at this point. Her physicality in her dancing is impressive enough as it is, but emotionally we see a frail young woman at the end of her string. A string of delicacy that Portman dances over like a man on wire's balancing act. A poetic portrait surrounded by light strokes, as meticulous as the perfection Sayers strives for.

"Tomas needs Nina to break out of her shell. Her innocence is perfect for the White Swan in the production, but he needs her to break loose into her Black Swan. In her ambition she falls into herself into a state of insanity. Slowly she devolves until she completely lets go. Much like the film does, as well.

"Much as the first half mirrors Nina Sayers' state of mind, the second half of the film perfectly reflects her descent into dark delirium and operatic madness. We see the full force of a true maestro's ferocious ambition with Aronofky's direction; we see a true vision find its wings and take flight on the screen as Sayers goes out on stage for her first performance. Every element, every shot is so necessary but flows much more freely than the first half did. Nina Sayers' transformation is truly a sight to behold.

"And much of that credit is owed to one Natalie Portman, who took up the challenge and for the first time in her career seemed to transcend the bounds of performance into being. Truly immersive, if Aronofsky paints the world of madness she drags you down right in with her. You're transfixed onto her until the very last shot where you're left dumbfounded.

"Countering Portman's white swan is Mila Kunis' black swan of Lily. Effortless, real, unconscious. Next to Portman, wound up like the music box with a spinning ballerina she keeps by her bedside, you really see what Tomas is referring to with Lily's free energy. She plays off of Portman incredibly effectively, and gives perhaps the best major supporting performance in the film.

"Aside from Kunis the other worthwhile mention is of Winona Ryder's cameo. Aggravated with being older and washed up, we see her Beth already through Natalie Portman's hell and back many a time. She makes the most of her limited screentime by emanating a paradoxically fiery chill to her character. One who's on edge, fierce, but at the same time you could see a haunting in her. Her career has taken everything out of her, and now she's just the empty shell of a woman without it.

"Aronofksy has created a truly bold piece of cinema, using every element from Libathique's kinetic camerawork to Clint Mansell's crowning achievement in the music to push the limit on what is cinematically possible. He takes a familiar story of one descending into madness through art, seen and perfected in a movie like THE RED SHOES before it; but strips it down; making it intimate, real. And with it finding a mainstream audience witnessing the psychological horror before them, it looks like we could have a real game changer on our hands.

"Rating: Uhh, we do it out of cats here right? Let's say 4 cats for what it outstandingly accomplished, with 1 cat docked for noticeable flaws. It's a weird dichotomy in this film, I think..."

Bruce says: "Darren Aronofsky has created a thrilling albeit flawed film.  Having had sufficient time to reflect, I honestly remember few of the flaws which seemed so evident at the time; however, the visceral impact of the film remains as strong, if not greater, than it seemed during the screening.

"BLACK SWAN is a character study taken to horrific levels.  Nina (Natalie Portman) is an aspiring ballerina.  She needs that one big break to escape the ranks of the chorus and step into the spotlight as a featured performer.  Her physical talent is inarguable but her ability to convey emotion is very much in question.  Sadly for Nina she is in a profession where physical prowess alone is not enough to sustain a career.  She, as do all of her peers, suffers from relentless pressure, intense competition, the ticking of the biological clock, and innumerable sacrifices that affect her personal well-being.  Fragile by nature, Nina’s plight is further hampered by her single mother’s overprotective nature and desire to create for her daughter the successful career she never had. 

"When the ballet master (Vincent Cassel) announces the company will next do a new version of 'Swan Lake' using the same ballerina for the white and black swans Nina has her heart set on the role; a new arrival from San Francisco named Lily (Mila Kunis) may threaten her chances.  During the audition she nails details for the white swan but is told that she lacks the emotional depth for the black swan.  The passion is missing.  After a strange couch casting incident, Nina gets the role after all.  The balance of the film involves her descent into madness in order to achieve artistic perfection.  The disarming back story of Beth (Winona Ryder), the former star ballerina of the company who is forced into retirement, adds to the inevitability of Nina’s fate.  After Beth has been run down by an automobile while crossing the street, Nina pays Beth a visit in hospital.  The room is threateningly funereal, huge bouquets of flowers covering every horizontal surface.

"In the latter portion of the film, Aronofsky unfortunately abandons his character and relies on superficial tricks of the trade to complete the story.  Nina’s body becomes the equivalent of the refrigerator in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM - a source of terror.  The weakness of the script is largely overcome by a truly brilliant performance from Natalie Portman and a good supporting turn from Mila Kunis, her rival and nemesis.   Barbara Hershey is eerily macabre as the ambitious, passively aggressive stage mother who sobs as she paints at her easel, planting the thought that Nina’s demons may be hereditary. 

"Nina’s nightmares and hallucinations are exquisitely created.  Many of them involve dirty tricks that Lily uses to undermine Nina.  Until the end of the film we are never quite sure what is real and what is imagined by an increasingly twisted mind.  The ending of the film is unfortunately dissatisfying.   I felt unprepared for the two-dimensional horror stunt which Aronofsky chose as his finale.  As in Matthew Bourne’s 'Swan Lake,' Tchaikovsky’s music is an ominous and haunting accompaniment to this interpretation of the fabled story.  4 1/2 cats

Michael says: "Why didn’t anyone tell me how much damn fun BLACK SWAN was?  Natalie Portman really shines portraying a young ballerina and her descent into madness as she loses herself to the 'black swan.'  And Darren Aronofsky really pulls out all the stops to create this visually magnificent, and thematically brilliant piece of psychological horror.  It’s so impressive to see a film that effectively uses camp elements and is still really well done.  Usually films that are 'camp' are bad films.  This one is a really well-executed exception.  So many fun parts I can’t mention them all. 

"Do want to mention Chlotrudis Award-winner Matthew Libatique for his spot-on cinematography.  No nominations though, as it isn’t eligible. 4 1/2 cats"

Marilyn responds: "Michael----to say Black Swan was 'fun' says something about you and I don't think I want to go there...:)"