Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Carol - longing and not belonging in 1950s New York (QFT Fri 27/10-Thu 10/12)

Therese (played by Rooney Mara) spends her days as a clerk behind a counter in a Manhattan department store selling expensive toys to people who can afford them. She’d much prefer to be working as a photographer. When one glamorous customer leaves her gloves behind, Therese’s kindness coupled with a big dollop of serendipity rewards her with a meet-up and a dangerous life-changing journey.

The eponymous Carol (Cate Blanchett) mixes together elegance, confidence, frostiness, sensuality and anxiety. Her marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler) has unravelled and even though her relationship with good friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) is over, Carol’s continued air of “promiscuity” sets off a bitter custody battle to decide which parent is most morally upright and suited to look after their daughter Rindy.
“I always spend New Year’s alone – in crowds.”

Despite the Christmas backdrop for the first two thirds of the film, the mood is morose throughout. Rare moments of wild abandon and happiness are quickly crushed by events. Neither Carol nor Therese feel comfortable fitting into society’s expectations of womanhood.

Ambiguity rules throughout the film. Is Therese the first younger woman to be pursued by Carol? How na├»ve is Therese and how manipulative is Carol? The final scene is a Mona Lisa masterpiece in holding a shot long after every other director would have shouted “cut”, leaving audiences searching for the hint of a facial expression that would provide a definite conclusion.

Nothing is rushed in Todd Haynes’ adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt. Twenty minutes into the film I’d no idea where the plot would go. There’s a lot of looking yearningly out of car windows. Yet with long moody stretches without dialogue and shots that linger on opulent interiors, the story lures you into its world of 1950’s America and a crisis of changing moralities.
“You like certain people and you don’t like certain other people. You don’t know what attracts you to them.”

The film occasionally loses its subtly: a gun is signposted a little too obviously and now and again a line of dialogue feels clumsily planted whenever circumstance had already spoken louder than words. Shot on Super 16mm film, close-ups are rare and the colour palette is muted.

As the plot unfolds, the societal tensions and perceptions around same sex attraction become more and more obvious. Therese’s boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy) offers boring respectability while Carol offers excitement and desire. Even when unsure about the consequences, Therese has a propensity to say ‘Yes’. Can either Richard or Carol win her heart?

Carol opens in the Queen’s Film Theatre on Friday 27 November and runs until Thursday 10 December. It’s also being screened in some of the other local cinema chains.

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