Monday, June 13, 2011

Barney's Version, Black Swan

Summer Cellar Cine Club

Barney's Version

I had read the book by Mordecai Richler a few years ago and hadn't really cared for it. On the written page Barney's character comes across as exceedingly curmudgeonly and jaded, and the whole pretext of finding the real love of his life on the day of his wedding to someone else was too forced. In the movie, however, Barney may be abrasive but he is also sincere and bumbling in a vulnerable way, which compensates for the fact that he could also be a real idiot. Paul Giamatti did a great job with his portrayal of the character. And Dustin Hoffman as his father was an absolute delight. I really enjoyed the film. It was very funny until the ending, which was quite sad. This is one of those rare cases where I would say that I enjoyed the movie more than the book.

Black Swan

This film is a very disturbing story about Nina (Natalie Portman) a young dancer who pushes herself to extremes in order to dance the role of the Queen Swan in Swan Lake. Nina and the director Thomas both know that she dances the part of the White Swan beautifully and with technical perfection, but she cannot step outside the self-restraint that keeps her from exploring the driven sensuality and passion of the Black Swan. Thomas challenges her sexually; not because he actually desires her but more as a "hands-on" technique aimed at teaching her to feel and experience her own passion. Nina finds the embodiment of her passion in Lily (Mila Kunis) a rival dancer and through fantasizing both about having sex with Lily and about murdering her, Nina is able to connect with the intense passion that she had previously not been able to feel. But the process of distancing herself from her own comfort zone causes stress. Other stresses include rehearsing to the point of physical exhaustion and the constant pressure to remain underweight. Jealousy and guilt are also constant factors in the life of the dancer. Nina admires the older dancer Beth, and even steals things from her dressing room as talismans, but she also wants to succeed her. The other girls in the corps du ballet are also always waiting for their chance to be in the spotlight. Nina's mother had given up the ballet after becoming pregnant. The mother both wants the daughter to succeed in order to enjoy her success vicariously, and also –perhaps-- wants her to fail so as not to acknowledge that she has been surpassed (for example, when Nina oversleeps on the day of the opening, her mother does not wake her, and instead calls the theatre to say that Nina will not make it) The end result of all this physical and emotion tension: Nina experiences hallucinations.

In one scene in the movie, Nina and Lily are explaining the ballet Swan Lake to a couple of guys in a bar: The ballet is about a girl who is trapped in a white swan's body and only her true love can release her from the spell. However, her evil twin the black swan seduces the prince, compromising his love for her. The white swan, knowing that she is lost, kills herself. The boys in the bar find the premise kind of lame. Nina finds it unbearably romantic.

On opening night she finds her passion and dances the role of the black swan to perfection… and then proceeds to take the role to its perfect artistic conclusion. I guess that is why we need the ballet: To portray the kind of passion can only be experienced in high art, because that kind of intensity could kill a person.

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