Friday, February 25, 2011


Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

Cinema 6, Trinoma

I believe that as young girls we all dreamt of being a ballerina. The tutus, the classical music, the pas de deux steps were all very fascinating for our very young impressionable minds. Naturally, we move on to more lofty ambitions, one that is within our reach.

But the fascination with ballet never really leaves you. I still have this musical box which once opened had this little ballerina figurine dancing to the Swan Lake music. Well the music still plays faintly but the figurine has long been misplaced.

So a film that features ballet as its central theme would surely draw in the crowds, well mostly the female variety. But "Black Swan" is not a film merely about ballet. It also deals with obsession, jealousy, insanity and the need to always be perfect all the time.

Artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) selects Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as a leading candidate for the role of the heroine -- the white swan -- as well as the antagonistic black swan who seduces and steals her prince. All of this is exceptionally demanding for Nina, who we notice is an emotionally frail human being prone to strange dreams and hallucinations.

She has an unusually close relationship with her retired ballerina single mother (Barbara Hershey) who has a creepy controlling attitude. She must also face stiff competition from a young rising ballerina named Lily (Mila Kunis) who has been cast as her alternate. Lily is the complete opposite of the demure, stoic Nina. She is more carefree, liberated and willing to take risks. All of which sort of pushes Nina to the brink of insecurity and paranoia.

Director Darren Aronofsky does a spectacular job of drawing the audience deep into Nina's inner turmoil, making the viewer feel every uncomfortable twist of her slow decline into mental instability. The film quickly becomes very surreal and unsettling as we witness Nina's anxiety, fear, confusion, and she is slowly coming unhinged. This arrives complete with a rising curve of jarring moments to reflect Nina's mental and emotional disintegration as she strives for perfection always just out of reach.

The dance sequences are beautifully choreographed and exquisitely filmed, a blend of swirling beauty and mind-bending disorientation. The majestic music of Swan Lake becomes the perfect soundtrack to the building insanity, with an on-stage climax of operatic proportions.

Natalie Portman as Nina was incredible. I read that under the 'sadistic' prodding of Aronofsky she went through rigorous training to learn ballet. She even lost 20 pounds to achieve her ballerina stance. And all those sessions paid off as she delivered a great performance in a role that surely deserves the Best Actress trophy in any if not all of the awards shows. Her transformation from a slightly unstable dancer obsessed with perfection to the unveiling of her darker moments were believable but no less shocking to watch.

The other talented cast composed of Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey also performed well in their supporting roles. But truly the Black Swan thrives solely on the enigmatic presence of Natalie Portman.

This brings me to note that I was reminded of Aronofsky's other film, "The Wrestler" starring Mickey Rourke. The themes about obsession, jealousy, paranoia and striving for perfection are the same. He dared to explore the flip side of beauty, with all its ugly consequences – all in pursuit of the perfect performance.

I really recommend this dark psychological thriller for one reason - to watch Natalie Portman deliver an award winning performance. That should be enough, in my opinion.

2 popcorn buckets:

witsandnuts said...

My friends were quizzing me why I was so eager to watch Black Swan and when they saw it they didn't like the story. The storyline might be deficient (A Beautiful Mind is much better) but I agree with you that to see Portman's portrayal is more than enough reason.

Daphn3 LaurA said...

I've been a long time fan of Natalie Portman so I try to make it a point to watch all of her films.


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