by | Nov 22, 2015 | 0 comments

 An Incredibly Subtle Film That Is Well Rounded With Two Brilliant Performances

Subtlety is a crucial thing in film, and something that is often discarded by many viewers. It is incredibly hard to make a subtle film, but if successful the quality boosts right up, because it is basically telling the audience that the film trusts them. And this is a message to all filmmakers, in order for an audience to trust a film, you must first trust them.

Carol is Todd Haynes latest film, which received high praise at this summer’s Cannes Film Festival. The film is an adaptation from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” which tells the story of two women who have an affair in the conservative 50s. Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is an aspiring photographer who works tending a toy store counter and in the height of Christmas shopping she meets the charismatic and flamboyant Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) who happens to forget her gloves by Therese’s counter (a subtle detail that will have the audience wondering whether the action was intentional or not). Therese returns Carol’s gloves, and as a reward Carol takes her out for lunch. Things slowly build up from there and as the story progresses we discover Carol’s problems with her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) and the grueling process of going through a divorce.

The story is, again, subtle by having this not be a story about homosexuality, but rather a love story between two lost women in a very conservative time. But the film’s intricate delicacy also allows for the film to be read in many different ways. I certainly found messages of feminism and LGBT activism in the film, but it was done in a much more muted way so that the audience actually received and was convinced by such a message. It’s certainly helpful that a film with political details has the messages be appealing and not on the nose like those of Freeheld and Suffragette. Then there was also the exploration of the innocence of youth and even the search for purpose. It was refreshing and delightful to see a film with a simple enough plot, be subtle enough to have such intricate philosophical explorations.

Phyllis Nagy, who gives the actresses brilliant dialogue to throw at each other, adapted the script expertly. She doesn’t make the story seem cheesy one bit; the thought never crosses the audience’s mind once in the film; she gave the story a very enjoyable but realistic pace. Though I have to say a great deal of credit for the pacing goes to Todd Haynes; he was able to capture the 50s world like no other recent film, perhaps only comparable to Mad Men. He makes the film hold back from the inevitable collision so that the audience is carried throughout much of the film in a guileful tension of will-they-won’t-they (even though the answer is pretty obvious).

As for the two main actresses, they are spectacular. Cate Blanchett is magnificent, but then again when is she not? Her Carol not only captivates Therese right away, but the audience as well, her charisma and charm simply ooze from the screen. But, while Blanchett had the showier role, we mustn’t discard Rooney Mara’s quiet portrayal, which must have surprised many of those who saw her in The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. She gives Therese such an innocent and curious air, that you don’t question her at all when she dives headfirst for a strange woman being kind and confident with her. In terms of the supporting cast they mostly hold back and let the two stars do their magic. Sarah Paulson made a notable appearance as one of Carol’s friends, and as for Kyle Chandler while he may be a fine actor, the tone that he gave his character didn’t quite fit with what Blanchett and Mara had set; I wouldn’t call it goofy, but it seemed too simplistic.

In technical aspects this period piece is a delight to look at, and as mentioned before it fully brings us into the 50s New York atmosphere, from the costume design to the sets and I was especially stricken with the beautiful music by Carter Burwell, that remind you of Philip Glass’ soft tunes in The Hours.

The film reminds us all of what an art house film should be. Carried with great performances and careful storytelling, its intense subtlety will have everyone chatting away at the different interpretations they saw.  








What is your favorite Cate Blanchett movie? Let me know in the comments section.

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