SLIFF 2010 Review: BLACK SWAN – We Are Movie Geeks

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BLACK SWAN is a tragic tale of a young woman’s quest for perfection, an endeavor complicated by her fractured self. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a promising young ballerina set upon earning the treasured role of the Swan Queen in Thomas Leroy’s new version of the classic production Swan lake. The primary obstacle for Nina is not in her portrayal of the White Swan, but proving she has in her what it takes to play the Black Swan as well.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film is meticulously composed with a grainy spontaneous edge, much like that of his previous film THE WRESTLER. Nina is an innocent, seemingly fragile young woman, extremely talented but pressed upon and protected too much so at times by her overbearing mother, played perfectly by veteran Barbara Hershey. Nina fears she ruined her one chance at the coveted role, until Thoma Leroy (Vincent Cassel) notices quite by accident that she has the raw seedlings of what makes the Black Swan within.

Mila Kunis offers a fun and exhilarating supporting performance as the wild child Lilly, a ballerina who plays dirty while vying for Nina’s prized role. Winona Ryder’s supporting performance as the aging ballerina Beth may be brief, but not without merit. Beth’s mental state is crumbling under the weight of being a fallen star, something for which Nina feels guilt. Ryder’s performance is eerie and compelling, combined with Aronofsky’s chilling Dario Argento-inspired vision of a tortured soul.

BLACK SWAN is a dark, psychological thriller with the antagonist and protagonist rolled up into one mesmerizing performance from Natalie Portman, a stellar achievement deserving of unquestionable Oscar notoriety. She conveys Nina in such a virginal, incorruptibly innocent that, as her character unfolds upon herself to embrace the essence of the Black Swan, that the result is both shocking and intensely surreal. Portman’s performance was surely a formidable task, both creatively and emotionally.

Visually, Aronofsky’s film is far more intricate than it leads on at the surface. Nina’s personality is at the core of the story, an element reflected repeatedly throughout the film by his abundantly effective use of mirrors. So much is this an integral role in the film, that to consider the logistics of such a production is mind boggling in and of itself. While watching BLACK SWAN, be mindful of the mirrors and what they represent about Nina and her reality.

The classical music of Swan Lake, combined fluidly with original music from Clint Mansell (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM), provides a visceral sound-scape for Nina’s metamorphosis. I need not sell this film to fans of Darren Aronofsky, as they are already well aware of his talent and appeal. However, those who have not yet succumbed to the his cinematic prowess should not refrain from this gem due solely to it’s association to ballet. The classical dance is merely a vessel for a much more potent, terrifying tale.

BLACK SWAN played during the 19th Annual Stella Artois St. Louis International Film Festival and will open in theatres nationwide on December 3rd, 2010.

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