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Monday, 25 January 2010

Review: Black Swan (15) ★★★★★
A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan - Princess Odette - but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile the Black Swan, daughter of an evil magician.


From the outset Black Swan shouldn't really have been a film that interested me. I'm not generally known for my interests in Ballet but when I saw the trailer it really got me intrigued, resonating images that reminded me of David Lynch at his most baffling. The result is a fantastic film with a central lead that, with any justice, will take all awards this year.

Nina Sayers is a very quite, withdrawn ballet dancer. She is a competent dancer and excels in the the 'safe' routines that match her personality. When the lead in Swan Lake is up for grabs she perfectly fits the white Swan part but struggles with the darker Black Swan side of the character. She eventually wins the part but as she tries to encompass the soul of the Black Swan she drifts more and more into a state of being that drives her to the very edge of what is real and what is not.

Nina starts to become more paranoid and delusional day by day with her detachment from reality growing further and further apart the more she takes on the Black Swan's psyche. She's further tormented by a over bearing mother as well as a new addition to her dance troupe who seems to be vying for her coveted Swan Lake lead.

The story is enveloped by a sense of dread throughout and constantly asks the question of the audience, is this real or all within Nina's head? Watch each scene carefully as there are shots that would make the most confident film-goer move uncomfortably in their seat. This in part is down to Darren Aronofksy's filming style, very much a counter piece to The Wrestler, Black Swan trades scenes with its counterpart but as Randy The Ram's circumstances were all too real, Nina's is far from the cut and dry of a troubled family past. Nina's interaction with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) is a tense affair, constantly on the edge with Erica still treating Nina like a small child, smothering her and not allowing her any room to grow. You sense there is more to this relationship but its the transformation in Nina that distracts your focus and for me is better for it.

The dance scenes are all done with meticulous attention to detail and at times come across as terrifying acts played against a pitch black background where figures appear and disappear at will. Does it ask the question of past ghosts haunting Nina? Its just one of the many questions the film challenges its audiences with which makes it all the more intense.

And so we come onto Natalie Portman's astounding performance. Portman portrays Nina with such a fragile and gentle persona it comes as an almighty shock when the Black Swan side of her personality makes its appearance. Switching between the two identities effortlessly she brings such emotional content to the role that it is impossible not to feel torn for the girl. In addition to the powerhouse performance Portman brings, all the dancing is her (no doubles here) so she not only has to deal with an emotionally unstable character she has to perfect the ballet moves and carry it all off together. It truly is a jaw dropping performance and one which will reap all the awards this season, and rightly so.

Haunting, dark and a spell binding central performance make this a major film of the year and one I tip to win the Oscar. People may be questioning the amount of five star ratings I've given so far this year, but Black Swan deserves its top rating, it really does.


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