Carol : A Film Review

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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.
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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.
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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.
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Finessing
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.
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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.

Conclusion #####5
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!

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Phyllis Nagy Screenwriter

John Graham

26 November 2015

Belfast

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

This Week
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
Upcoming
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

Obvious Child : A Film Review

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Director Gillian Robespierre, USA, 1hr 25mins, Cert 15

Cast: Jenny Slate as Donna, Jake Lacy as Max the one night stand, Gaby Hoffman as Nellie the roommate and BF, David Cross as Sam another comic friend, Gabe Liedman as a comic and gay friend, Richard Kind as Jacob Stern Donnas father, Polly Draper as Donnas Mum, Paul Briganti as Ryan, Cindy Cheung as Dr Bernard the Planned parenthood clinician, and where would you be without a bookstore in Brooklyn, Stephen Singer as Gene.

Intensely Absorbing
Viewing this film went in a flash. It is such an absorbing portrayal of a subject which has every community and ever woman and man who have personally been confronted with an aborted pregnancy and those that haven’t drawn closely into the central issue. It consumes ever emotion delivered by the quality of Gillian Robespierres penned story. It happens when she also has found an unguarded uncompromising new romance that is unsettled from the outset.
It illuminates and conspicuously puts the issue of abortion front and central in this compelling film.

Never simple never more real.

If anyone thought every woman who became pregnant from whatever circumstances believed she did not carry a possible life and that the egg carried is fertilised is plainly not in possession of reason.
Reason has it that the body of the woman can carry or physically abort that fertilised egg. It stands to reason that choice exists. It is a choice only one person can make and one no one should make for her.

Maybe it has been without question; never a concern or a possibility.
Which judgement is the previous line about?

It seems the power of control and oppressive treatment of the woman is behind the anti-abortion mind. The time in which that decision is made is often when loud voices and lobby groups lay siege on other people’s bodies.  They are less inclined to go to war one suspects as it too can define a bodies value.  Nevertheless perversely they trust their judged ownership over others lives.
How does that feel? Not knowing on which side even the question above falls.
Of the woman finding out what is required for her. Of what the fertilised egg which she has is as a consequence to her future. Only the woman is privy.
It is possible to abort in a very short time and it is clear the proximity of health care providers to the newly pregnant will make the decision more enabled in the event it is wanted. Being impregnated and fertilised is a sexual eventuality which happens in a millisecond. The sperm swings into action and like a thought arriving jointly in consent of intercourse the possibility it takes on a life of its own as a sacrificial match igniting a fire, is transformative. Wanted suaviter in modo, fortiter in re, without the drawbacks.
No other thing is determined. Sex makes children but children are not always the aim or the intention and we are privileged as humans to enjoy sex without the premeditative state of child making being the purpose of sexual intercourse. Intercourse is provocative, unprocreative, erotic, a sensual course of actions motivated in all manner of couplings and is a means of creating connections of our senses with another’s.

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The Donna Dilemma

The place Donna performs is a fairly regular Brooklyn Bar. It has a pre-graffitied unisex toilet with the comedy in the curtained off back room enroute to the loo. This is where, if your senses are numb enough after or before a few beers you can expect humour droll and troll shaped with comedy so dry you think you have been stalked.
Is there a sub-genre in comedy foe female comedians to tkalk about men and women’s pants, the inside ones used for filtering fart jokes and cheesy wot’sits masquarading as hooky discharge. Next up variations on bake-off for snooker players who despise FGM and outrageous homophobic jokes.
Yes there’s not a lot of it about but Donna aka Jenny Slate has a better comedic breath than this film and Edinburgh Fest Daggers portray.

Pro Choice Brooklyn

One good choice Donna has made is the living in Brooklyn which hopefully is as friendly as the vibe of direction, that even on a cold day the parks have a slick black safe path to walk along and with the legend that is – not the idiosyncratic Bookstore she works at from which she is is to lose her day job through a rental hike or lease termination of this engaged bookstore building – the Brooklyn Book Fair which draws thousands each year.  There is a playful semi disregard of the future for this twenty year old and it all gets very conspirator when er boyfriend of late at the comedy club confesses to having paired off with a confidant of Donna’s making one bad judgement turn into two.  This summons the wine fuzzing scene.  The scenes are approached in a very old fashioned way as are the face and wide shots and convention seems an intrinsic device to put a context to the morality tale which unfolds.

Max played by Jake Lacy is the straight guy who walks into the bar one night and strokes up a fairly routine conversation and after awhile she bonds enough to do an outdoor bodily function before they move onto smarter bodily functions and it wasn’t farting earlier, that is dancing.  It goes up a gear and there’s your story.

Mr Max as an easy going pleasant, no sides personality which is not sufficiently complex for Donna we figure.  It so happens he can’t do too many wrong things without apologizing and making amends somehow.  How would her life cope with that we are asked to consider as each step unfolds.  We also are neatly put in the position of having no gripe with Max making us unable to off load a guilt trip abortion exit on him.  No it is straight down to Donna and Jenny Slate puts us through the ringer as well as constructing a possibility of last minute withdrawal, at least I had it thus and I must also admit I did not cover the predicament mentally by laughing about it.  There was not the comedy Fest a lot of reviews have alluded to but a thoughtful appreciative audience engaging with this monumental decision being taken inside this vulnerable twenty something’s head.

Intensely moving Drama

The timeline is believable with over two weeks of intense self reflection and questioning this point in her life where career isn’t a word she needs lock too, it will be sometime before she gets one and the part time comedy just got way too close and vulnerability shakes her core.

Paper Mountains

On Friday last a 2014 award winning newspaper carried on its National page 10 a film review (shoving as it sometimes does with Venice, into a different arena, that of Political incisiveness?) which had 5 stars, for the film The Look of Silence. This film OC featured in its Friday review section received 3 stars in text failing to carry paragraphs. A feature writer had a week or so previously written incisively on Obvious Child with some emphasis on how in the past, ’80s etc the issue central to this film was part of a sub-text, never prominent and the time we are in is newly ‘Hollywood Conservatism’. It also is taken as a very funny independant film which thankfully drops the ridiculous message of romantic comedy.

The writer obviously, in line with her forthcoming book on Hollywood Conservatism, touched on an aspect of the film which indeed shows the full focus of this lead Jenny Slate playing in an film narrated environment which is an unhindered pro-choice, un-hectoring society except for the straining Health care Clinician who; and a neat inter-racial, the only one evident, puts across the truth she, Donna, has to consider the options available. Donna has brought the decision to the clinician already made on the basis of her options and loudly asserts “I want an abortion” without volume but with fully fetched directness.

That actually is the message of the film. The woman choosing what happens within her body. As only for a quick rejection replacing fuck bitten condoms and double vision eyes whacked on JD as opposed to the earlier crying session of wine drunk from a jam jar after her break up the condition would not exist. Not all on the same day you understand.

Conclusion #### 4

This is a far reaching film which will find audiences of many nations and of different cultural, economic circumstance meet the film at the heart of the issue of aborting an embryo at an early stage of pregnancy.  It is not complicated by many variables hence a late abortion, a mis-function based abortion, or a mental breakdown, level of immaturity or other pressing reasons.  It is a film constructed around a simple message. That alone it is the woman whose body carries the egg who must decide.

It does carry its load lightly knowingly with the device of laughter but it is a film which carries with it social realism and provides and carries wisdom.

To be found at nationwide cinemas and at

QFT Belfast from Friday 5 September to Thursday 11 September 2014

Well worth seeing.

 

John Graham

3 September 2014

Belfast