Carol

January 2, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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I have been a fan of director Todd Haynes’s work since his brilliant “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.”  He is not the most prolific of directors, having only made a handful of films in the past 30 years, which makes how closely “Carol” mirrors another film of his that much more remarkable. His 2002 film, “Far From Heaven,” takes place in the late 50s and tells the story of a housewife discovering that her husband is gay and then having to deal with the dissolution of their marriage. This film, set in the early 50s, is also told from the housewife’s point of view. Only this time, she is the one coming to terms with her sexuality, while her heartbroken husband must cope with the end of his marriage. Though very similar in framework, they are not without their differences. “Carol” feels like a more hopeful, open-hearted film, perhaps reflecting the societal changes of the past 13 years. As in film like “Heaven” and “I’m Not There,” Haynes shows an eye for mid-century period pieces. All the details here feel right, right down to the beer cans, the slang and the abundance of late 40s cars (less experienced filmmakers will fill a 1952 story with cars from the early 50s, as though everyone only drove that year’s model). The sets and costumes are lavish and highlighted beautifully in the warm lighting and gentle camera angles. In addition, there is a fantastic soundtrack, all of which gives this film a sense of benevolence that belies some of what is happening on screen and leaves the film permeated with a gentle feeling of hope. But the real strength of the film lies in its two leads. Both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are two of the strongest actors of their respective generations (in fact, Blanchett may be the best actress of my generation). Both are masterful at capturing complex emotions in their faces and their bodies and they both shine here. There is a scene early on, when they go to lunch for the first time. Both women show such a range of emotions as they sit across from each other: joy, nervousness, excitement, uncertainty. Blanchett, especially, manages just with her face to portray a woman pretending to be suave and in control while really being terrified and in awe. It’s a brilliant performance. While this movie treads very familiar ground, these two performances lift it into something deeply moving.  And again, in that final scene, we watch two masterful actors say everything that needs to be said in their faces. Acting like this is always a joy to watch.

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