Director, Todd Haynes, Cast, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith, Carrie Brownstein, Kevin Crowley, Nik Paget.
UK/USA/France. Duration 1hr 58mins. Cert. 15.
The Price of Salt
Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” is a love story set in an impassioned fire of attraction, longing, desire, openness and discovery. Therese the younger attraction to Carol our central character, is played by the dreaming, longing attentive Rooney Mara who is a shopgirl seen in a Christmas of that age. Shopper Carol Aird played by the top to toe extravagantly dressed, furred, Cate Blanchett is no less a striking image. They share a moment in their roles in the bustling Department store parting with no more than a shared connection of each’s attractiveness to the other.
Therese Belivet is looking through Carol and seeing a mirror image of a confidence she admires, possibly aspires to and reflecting her dreaming youth and beguiling imagination of what is to come. Therese is almost lynx like and mercurial with natural beauty and open eyes. If Carol has a mask it is her assuredness which carries her through despite her inner demons and uncertainties.
The art of attraction is a frisson of design found in a world view and here reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn. Seen as we have the recent ad with Hepburn restored in a dark chocolate chauffeur driven role, it is a hard act to follow. We are brought into a confident arena of New York space in which Therese is a foal and Carol a fully developed throughbred ace and pilot of her generous friendships including Abby (Sarah Paulson) who is besotted though an instrument of Carols muse.
Abby is a muse from an earlier stage of the decade long marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler) Carols omnipresent ex-husband whose remaining love for her is always a danger and sometimes unmanageable presence due to their daughters upbringing bringing with it all the confusions a young child has to cope with when their mother and father live apart.
Abby entered the collection of relationships we learn near the 7 year itch.
She has moved on remaining friends but Harge uses her as sabre to thrust control over Carols life in bring up their child.
Higher or lower
Highsmiths men never are (Ripley excused due to intellect?!) ones who garner sympathy when cast as villain nor hero when cast as saviour.
Her own complex personality not so much causes her not to ‘know’ men but to never be driven to use any insight preferring to view the female role in its complexity. That is the writers, perhaps even virtuous, gift – to so describe and construct a female character as to have every bone and sinew flex and appear real and so powerful. Carol is a brilliantly composed, rounded – in the sense the flaws and rawness are clear, – even the coyness, control in the lovemaking scenes – when she is in command is done with a finesse of restraint and therefore creating more depth and characterisation in place of the written word.
Perfecting the Story
The narrative sweep of the film has two core turning points.
The first is when Harge makes things difficult for Carol to hold onto
Mood and Period Pitch perfect
Therese has a casual boyfriend whose (Highsmith again reigns) besotted and dullard view is thrust into wider confusion for the young girl finding female attractiveness a better option, also another companion also fancying her, a journalist friend, Dannie (John Magaro) on The New York Times, whose more realistic view contains a view of Therese for her skills – she has an ambitious photographers eye and it is cultivated in several ways – beautifully involving the look of the film – and he encourages her wider and higher than her own vision by his access to the newspaper and it’s oeuvre. Talking of which Harge is also a character lifted into a role which takes a lot of playing. His blinkeredness concerning business and success – evident through the lifestyle they both can live in separation, and the controlling freakery he uses as lighting the blue touchpaper Carol is struggling with concerning her array of feelings and values makes for a memorable and persuasive part. It cannot be easy playing the villain though the otherwise I’m sure, charming Chandler might coyly retort ‘it’s tough but it pays well!’
Similarly Dannie is a good part and when it is shown he watches Sunset Boulevard a lot – to see what’s not being said – that point serves the silences we come across.
The masterly Todd Haynes has prepared for us several emotional hammer blows while at the same time created featherlight moments. Music is the oeuvre for two most telling pieces of love visualisation when it’s used in singular tonal orchestral refrain with close up to set it apart and capture the moment. If anyone else spotted that code within it I would appreciate knowing otherwise I’m out on a limb! The direction is superbly slow and measured. Never are scenes broken up by constant reframing but single long shots are frequent. In them the sides are sometimes brought in by corridor, door, booth, to create almost a square, asymmetrically at times which gives the sense of looking in on a part of the story which is intimate and out of our participation. One such scene is late on at a family gathering at home when mannerisms are affecting and behavior is saviour end as story.
Her friends are not in short supply. Out of the book the conservative Highsmith is elevated and our vision encapsulated by the real lovers in thrall is a never overtaken image.
Once viewed once smitten as they entwine as transference of each other’s adoration. Pure and erotic and poetry captured by the cinematographer, as accomplished by the storyteller, Highsmith, the screenwriter, Phyllis Nagy and Todd Haynes weight of delivery.
This film will endure for many reasons, it’s consummate excellent resume and cast, it’s exploration of the sexes and the period stifling orthodoxies of times past. It shapes the New York scenery and the dominance of commerce as a tool to reconfigure America after the War. Optimism outside of McCarthyism is pronounced as the bold confidence of the seemingly open land of opportunity provides insufficient soul and lacks retrospect.
Hides are tough and role play counts a great deal. Honesty is another tool which you use or set aside to preserve the status quo and perpetuity of the age of normal. Cinema of the time was not reflective except for the likes of ‘Whose afraid of ..’ and steamers of the passionate clashing with the errant youth but in the mainstream and novels of this kind were rare taking on marginal live and sexual mores. The delivery of this is therefore fresh and new hitherto unseen in such awesome depth and the playing of all involved is brilliant in conveying the masterful artful direction of Todd Haynes and even the clothes are spectacularly neat conveyances of human structures and fashion. If only someone would add a splash of mud or dirt on car hubs, wheels, and let the windscreens dirt up a bit it would be perfect as a film!
Phyllis Nagy Screenwriter
26 November 2015
At QFT Belfast from This Friday until 10 December 2015 so no excuse for not seeing it and maybe a couple of times!
http://www.queensfilmtheatre.com will give further guidance
These are the present scheduled dates and times
Fri 27th Nov – 6:20pm Fri 27th Nov – 8:50pm
Sat 28th Nov – 6:20pm Sat 28th Nov – 8:50pm
Sun 29th Nov – 6:00pm Sun 29th Nov – 8:30pm
Mon 30th Nov – 6:20pm Mon 30th Nov – 8:50pm
Tue 1st Dec – 6:20pm Tue 1st Dec – 8:50pm
Wed 2nd Dec – 6:20pm Wed 2nd Dec – 8:50pm
Thu 3rd Dec – 6:20pm Thu 3rd Dec – 8:50pm
Fri 4th Dec – 8:50pm
Sat 5th Dec – 1:00pm Sat 5th Dec – 3:50pm
Sun 6th Dec – 7:50pm
Mon 7th Dec – 8:50pm
Tue 8th Dec – 8:50pm
Wed 9th Dec – 8:50pm
Thu 10th Dec – 8:50pm