What is it with me and films these days… let’s make it these past two years? I don’t seem to be enamoured of any of them. I feel like Hollywood has not produced a truly great movie in a long time, choosing instead to hype less-than-amazing offerings as if they were genius. Case in point – Inception, which was good but not great seeing as it was somewhat a recycling of the Matrix concept, and though much easier to decipher so much was said about how complicated it was that you ended up overthinking it, convinced that there must be more to it than there was. And there’s wasn’t.
Anyway, let’s just say I had high hopes of Black Swan.
And after the opening sequence, which was admittedly beautiful, I found myself cringing and tsking while around me, I could sense everyone else determinedly remaining enthralled.
So, in honour of my positivity vow, let me start with what I liked (and request you ignore the obviously negative first paragraph):
1. The ballet bits. In which case, I should just go watch the ballet instead of the twice-removed filming of it. However, the rehearsal parts – including the blood and gore involved in the training – have been beautifully shot. Of course, ballet always makes for filmic beauty so it’s kind of like if you choose to make a film involving the ballet, you’ve got a winner right there. But I will give it points for the very evocative cinematography.
2. Natalie Portman, who I generally have a crush on. I don’t think she was as amazing as everyone is going on about but seeing as I am in love with, I’m just going to put her in the positive part for just being her. On that note, can someone name one film (prior to this) which Natalie Portman was truly great in?
3. Mila Kunis, who I think is better than Natalie Portman in the film. She wavers between the free spirit and the seriously creepy so skillfully that there would be a big gaping hole in the film without her. In fact, I’m going to switch my crush to Mila. Or given the next point, both of them.
4. The Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis sex scene. The first unabashed lesbian scene in a mainstream film I have scene. And what a scene it was!
5. The creepy schizo parts and not being able to tell which was reality and which was a fragment of a fractured mind. I like how the film played on the intrinsic creepiness of ballet itself, how the ballerinas can all look like clones of each other, in performance and in life. How their uptightness can unravel. I liked that (thank god!) they didn’t explain the mysterious cuts on her back. I liked the grittiness of the blood though I shut my eyes through most of those parts.
Now what I hated:
1. Most of the dialogue except for Mila Kunis’s lines. I could have written that dialogue (and I’m only just discovering how difficult dialogue is to write but I still think people who get paid to do it should put more talent into it). So now I’m wondering whether she just improvised brilliantly, because I find it hard to accept that she was the only one with believable lines while the same screenwriter came up with utter tripe for everyone else. Another film which I wish had been made in the silent era.
There were so many lines that we just straight out of other films – instead of being really interesting things that the clearly interesting characters would have said – but the worst of them all were reserved for Vincent Cassel, who plays the artistic director Thomas Leroy. Everything he says seems to come from the pen of a scriptwriter instead of from inside the character. Maybe it’s because he’s supposed to be French, and French people just don’t speak like that. Maybe if he was an American, the obviousness and trying-to-be-profoundness of his statements wouldn’t jar so much. The only authentic thing he said in the whole film was when he asked the male lead about Nina – “Would you fuck her?” This is doubly amusing because in actual life, the guy, who is also the choreographer of the film, did (ie- Natalie Portman is now pregnant by him and they are all in love etc. In an amusing twist, she referred to it in her Golden Globes speech saying something on the lines of “He lied. He would and did fuck me.”).
2. Another example of irritating dialogue (monologue?) was when Thomas is explaining the storyline of the ballet to the ballerinas. This struck me as exceptionally stupid because Swan Lake is one of the most famous ballets of all time and if the dancers didn’t know the storyline already, they didn’t deserve to be there. Now, obviously this bit was put in for the edification of the audience which again is deeply patronizing. Why does mainstream cinema mollycoddle the audience in this way? A really great film would not make these kind of concessions. It would assume that the audience would either know the story – and really it’s quite an obvious storyline – or look it up after the film. It is not the duty of directors to spoonfeed their audience at the expense of the authenticity of the film. To make matters worse, he does the whole explanation thingie twice… just in case the audience didn’t get it the first time seeing as innocent-virgin-swan-discovering-the black-sawn-within is rocket science and all.
3. And on the subject of overkill, very obvious imagery also. A pink bedroom with white stuffed toys, except for a black swan. A painting of white swans behind Nina in the bath. A music box that plays the Swan Lake score and then the statue on the top of it breaks as Nina does. Nina in pastel shades and Lily in black, except for their night on the town when Nina borrow’s Lily’s camisole and then proceeds to let her hair down. Though, the last one turned out kind of cool.
4. Overall, I’m fine with the simplicity of the plot – uptight young thing discovers the dark side of herself in art and in life – but the whole art director as catalyst part was too boring. I’m sure such things do happen in ballet companies – ballerinas sleeping with the artistic director for the lead role – but the whole thing in this film was just so trite. Couldn’t he have just urged her to let herself go – and she was unraveling anyway – instead of physically trying to push that process on himself?
5. Poor Wynona Rider was quite wasted in the film. That was another overkill, that Thomas had been having a relationship with her before. Such a cliché. The whole film would have been fine without her raving on screen at all, it would have been more effective if the relationship had been suggested in rumours or something.
I was not thrilled with the ending either but on some reflection, I guess the director is entitled to it. It was unexpected in a sense. At least by me.
But clearly this film did something right because I’m still thinking about it two days later, aren’t I? I think it’s the cinematography. Puerile dialogue be damned, the entire thing was beautiful shot including (particularly?) the schizo bits. The tension between the women – Nina and her mom, Nina and Lily, Nina and the other dancers, even (albeit expendable) Nina and Beth – was authentic, even if the tension between Nina and Thomas was not. The soundtrack was great, at least I think it was because like a good soundtrack it was so intrinsic to the atmosphere of the film that you cannot actually remember it for itself. And, of course, the ballet bits.
On the whole, the film is truly great in retrospect because I can edit out the annoying bits in my head and just replay the stellar parts.
PS: Do women really look like that when they masturbate. I have no idea what I look like, since this is not an activity I have an inclination to perform in the front of a mirror, but I think I’m not so dramatic in my movements. So is this portrayal authentic or a figment of director’s fantasizing. Ladies… care to confess?