Carol

Carol ★★★★★

If there is one representative shot that sums up Carol it is of a pensive face through a rain smeared window. Todd Haynes uses windows as a persistent device to indicate loneliness, separation, apartness. Mist and rain compound the feeling. It is one of the loneliest films I've ever seen.

It is also one of the finest. When thinking about most films you can come up with a short list of what makes them work well. Perhaps a fine script, or an impressive acting performance, the score or the cinematography. In the case of Carol, it has the whole package: it is just total class.

The script is subtle, by necessity involving coded conversations, hiding emotional depths behind plain words. There are also zingers though: "What a strange girl you are. Flung out of space!" ; "I don't know what I want. How could I know what I want if I say yes to everything?" It's not a script that you would read in isolation, it only works because of the incredible reading of the lines and the aching, swooning tone that is maintained throughout.

The period setting is very fine indeed, with the camera luxuriating in the furniture, buildings, cars, street scenes. You find yourself feeling the suffocating restrictions of 50s romantic life whilst at the same time becoming nostalgic for chrome fittings and wooden train sets. It is a lovely trick: it is a film both glamorous and despairing.

The camera doesn't so much move as glide, from one perfect frame to another. It moves in on small gestures, red nails, lips, clothing. It frames people through doors, windows. I loved how it says more than any of the characters. The first hour sped by, I was just wide-eyed at the intelligence and the beauty on display. It felt a bit like being wrapped up in Cate Blanchett's fur coat. Snug and suffocating, gorgeous and cruel.

This use of gesture and small signs to indicate shifting emotions reminded me most of In The Mood For Love, although the tone of the film is entirely different.

The score is also perfect. Drawing back just before tipping into melodrama, it complements the swooning nature of the film, the glide of the camera, the undercurrents of emotion and passion, love and desire.

But, of course, these things are just preludes to the main course: the acting. Cate Blanchett is no surprise, she is always wonderful. She turned Blue Jasmine from just another Woody Allen film to something almost special. Like a movie goddess of times past she is all poise and elegance but with a hardness and steel that make her formidable. But also, of course, she can play all the emotions: fear, anger, despair. She gets weaker as the movie goes on before giving a stunning speech in a lawyer's office which is a masterclass in how to show a lifetime of suppressed rage and desire.

Rooney Mara is the surprise. Elfin and light, she might almost blow away on the breeze when the film begins. The film needs to show her growing embodiment as a woman, as a passionate being. The fact that Mara manages this is greatly to her credit. She strengthens, grows, you see in her mouth and her eyes how she is becoming the woman she needs to be.

Carol is obviously a companion piece to Far From Heaven. If you were being mean you could say that Haynes' films are simply period pieces, a recreation of old social mores and societal restrictions. I think they are more universal than that. Carol is about forbidden love, yes, but also about moral choice, about what happens to personalities under duress. A story about individuals struggling against artificial ideas of normality will always be relevant.

If there is one scene that I loved above all else, it is the first time that the lovers share a car. The plunge into a tunnel and the filming becomes almost abstract: images blend and fade and we get glimpses of smiles and glances. It creates the perfect impression of that first woozy feeling of love. It is wonderful.

The film is wonderful. I have been a bit gushing but it seems appropriate. Why bother watching films at all if you can't take delight in something as lovely as this.

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