Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Christmas Carol

Movies shot on film are an endangered species, though thankfully not extinct. As a historical artifact, the medium of film fits with Todd Haynes latest movie, a filmmaker whose work is comprised entirely of period pieces. Haynes has also yet to shoot a movie on video.

Carol (2015, Todd Haynes) is a film about, by, and for outsiders. It's also about love. And, everything about it is beautiful.

Rooney Mara's THERESE BELIVET drives Carol. Mara's performance gets its strength from her fickle, twitchy, self conscious, strange composure. Therese's ugly pageboy haircut and general lack of fashion sense or aptitude with makeup application doesn't stop CAROL (Cate Blanchett) from recognizing her attractive qualities, however. And Carol will come to love "fallen from out of space" Therese. And as a romance Carol finds Therese lonely, confused, young, unsure of what she wants to do with her life, a virgin, and never having been in love.

But what about Carol? Carol is unhappily married, also lonely--her one friend ABBY (Sarah Paulson) vehemently despised by Carol's husband. All Carol has is her daughter, until meeting Therese. And Blanchett's performance, depicting the anguish and running out of time and options she gives to Carol is, along with Mara's turn, some of the best of what makes Carol work so well. The two leads compliment each other by contrast: Carol is older, cynical, worldly, refined, affluent and in a family, whereas Therese is young, na├»ve, uncultured, dowdy, middle class and on her own.

1952 Manhattan has and continues to be a glamorously picturesque subject for classic Hollywood style filmmaking. Especially the elegant costumes and hairstyles for both men and women, and the interiors. Carol was shot on 16mm by Ed Lachman, whom Haynes also collaborated with on Far From Heaven (2002, Haynes), I'm Not There (2007, Haynes), and the made for TV, also shot on 16mm Mildred Pierce (2011, Haynes). Lachman is also one who has chosen outsider, or maverick filmmakers to work with. And 16mm is in a sense an outsider medium to shoot on, usually connotating art or experimental films.

Though Carol may look like a Fifties Hollywood movie, with its expertly framed compositions utilizing reflective surfaces finding characters seen through glass or separated by various constructions, the 16mm has a darker look, more natural, and there are frequent Steadicam, over-cranked subjective shots to put us in Therese's shoes.

Most of Carol is about unattainable objects of desire, brooding, and suffering. And that's why, like much of Haynes' other work, can be traced back to the feel of late Hollywood Sirk and also Fassbinder. But here Carol's characters aren't victim to as much external violence or even emotional conflicts; here, they are attacked from within, and battling for a chance to figure out a cure.

Carter Burwell's score is memorable, delicate, and one of his most memorable. The romantic theme ties Carol and Therese and gives the movie another of its contemporary highlights. Highsmith's original source gives Carol its Fifties authenticity. And another praise for Haynes is his ability to refrain from kitsch or hokey gags based on the difference of our American culture back then. Not to put down Far From Heaven, or Mildred Pierce, but Carol feels more somber, even realistic in comparison to those.


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