Celebrating Great Films

Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Swan

#49 at time of writing.

(Not the 1942 swashbuckler...)

This film left me shaking.

A fragile but technically brilliant dancer in a New York ballet company is selected for the lead role in a production of Swan Lake. As she rehearses, the pressures mount from all directions - from her sinister mentor, her overbearing mother, her jealous friends and her dismayingly carefree rival.

The main character, played heroically by Natalie Portman, teeters on the brink of nervous breakdown and a catastrophic fall from innocence. The upshot is an alarmingly effective psychological thriller that had me crying with empathy, cringing at the body horror, and squirming with anguish on her behalf.

Portman clearly poured her heart and soul into this role. She had previously trained in ballet (as a child), and resumed her training a year before filming began - so much of the dancing is genuinely her own performance (including the painful-looking en pointe). The role was obviously physically challenging; she suffered a dislocated rib and a concussion while filming the dance scenes. One can imagine that she brought some of the stress and strain of preparing for her demanding performance into the role itself.

The supporting roles are also masterfully acted. Vincent Cassel is chilling. Barbara Hershey is monstrous and tragic. Mila Kunis has come a long way since voicing Meg Griffin on Family Guy.

Darren Aronofsky - having directed Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and now this - has earned a place as one of my favourite directors of all time.

This has been a great month for films. I hope The King's Speech doesn't steal all the Oscars; Black Swan deserves the very highest recognition.

Click here to read the script.

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