Having already made a strong debut at the Venice Film Festival and ran as a sneak preview at Telluride this past weekend (where I saw it), Darren Aronofsky’s new picture Black Swan virtuosically mixes ballet, dark psychological drama and a standout performance by Natalie Portman to great cinematic effect. Shot by Matthew Libatique, viewers will recognize the harsh blue light and overall eerie look to the film from his previous work with Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain). The camerawork recalls the director-cinematographer team’s previous collaborations too, as it follows the careening choreography or zeroes in on characters’ anxiety with short jerky movements.
Jarring photography and other bold moves like these generally divide filmgoers into fans or foe of Aronofsky’s ambitious projects, and this work similarly polarizes audiences. Unlike his last film, 2008’s lauded Wrestler (which saw the director playing it relatively safe with the blue-collar story of a past-his-prime wrestler), Black Swan’s similar story of intense physical struggle is instead couched in the world of the New York Ballet. The setting’s stunning visuals and the high stakes of the professional dance world lend themselves well to Aronofsky’s over-the-top style—the costumes by Rodarte alone perfectly and gorgeously express the rapidly-unraveling mental state of Portman’s character.
Similarly, many are already whispering “Oscar” regarding the actress, who so far has only been nominated (for her 2004 role in Closer). To focus solely on Portman however is to miss some other excellent casting, namely Winona Ryder as the scorned ballerina and Barbara Hershey as an overbearing mother. Coupled with Aronofsky’s masterful direction (Oscar-winning or not), Black Swan makes for the kind of ultimately satisfying cinematic experience that can only be achieved by a scope as grand as the director’s. It’s best seen in theaters when it comes out 1 December 2010.
In the meantime, check out the trailer on iTunes.