Carol ★★★★½

Oh Carol, I'm so in love with you. At my favourite cinema, in screen 6 (which I've dubbed the 'attic screen' since it's right up in the roof and holds no more than 30 people) I was completely alone and experienced something wonderful (ok to be fair there were two old ladies at the back, who I overheard at the end saying the film "was a bit slow." Girls, please.)

Carol is a superbly authentic look at the blossoming relationship between newly divorced Carol and younger department store clerk Therese. While the film is in no way plot-heavy, the intimate development of the affair between the two leads is handled astonishingly well. About halfway through the film I knew I was seeing something special and tried to articulate to myself why the relationship on screen was working so deftly, but I couldn't. And I still can't. Haynes' direction is superb (I'll get to that), the performances are great (of course), the cinematography, the soundtrack, the editing, it's all excellent but there's something else that makes Carol and Therese's romance have a genuine heart. I was absolutely on the edge of my seat (if it's possible to be 'on the edge of your seat' while watching a 50s-set melodrama about a lesbian relationship), transfixed as to where their romance would head next and whether it would all work out for them. Something otherworldly might be at play, I very rarely have such a genuine reaction to any sort of on screen affair.

Todd Haynes, make room on your mantelpiece, the direction here is fabulous. One of the best framed films I've ever seen. It's hard after just one viewing to pick out many specifics, but the framing of characters in relation to their connection (or lack of) to their partners was brilliant. For example, early in the film both Carol and Therese (Carol married, Therese with a boyfriend, both unhappy) are seen through windows speaking to their significant others, with each character split by a window frame down the middle (similar shots happen with doorways too, I believe) signifying their lack of connection. Yet when Carol and Therese are together, they're constantly filmed inhabiting the same space, the best direct example being the shot through the car windshield, again split down the middle, but both women caressing each other tightly within the same mini-frame, with the frame on the right left empty. This idea later returns with a brief scene with Carrie Brownstein. I probably haven't explained this that well but hopefully you'll know what I mean when you see it. There's a ton of frames-within-frames throughout the film, perhaps a metaphor for Carol and Therese's romance being so 'outside the box' for the time period. They don't fit into any 'normal' idea of a relationship back then, constantly outside the frames forging their own path.

Another excellent piece of directing I'd like to point out was the sex scene between Carol and Therese. While containing a lot of nudity, it's not intended to be particularly erotic but rather a perfect expression of genuine love and affection. The camera glides over the two as their flesh entangles and instantly I felt a link to the infamous sex scene in Blue Is The Warmest Colour. While that scene was overly erotic, almost pornographic and to me didn't illustrate a feeling of love rather an almost exploitive, perverted interval in a three hour runtime (and I think the behind the scene stories back up that idea), the similar scene in Carol is definitely a perfect guideline on how to use sex in a sophisticated manner and illustrate something more than just two people going at it.

Sort of segueing from the intimate shots during that scene into the general use of close-ups which were wonderful. The cinematography by Edward Lachman shows up big time here, and let's be honest when you've got someone as beautiful as Rooney Mara in front of your lens it's hard to have a bad shot ever, but in an emotionally heightened film I felt and saw every tear running down a flushed red cheek, every stray hair out of place, every single shade of lipstick used. It's these kind of reasons why I was so emotionally invested in the film, knees clutched to my chest during the final moments.

This review is a bit scattershot, I probably should have slept on it and written it tomorrow since I was up until 6AM last night and actually had this worrying dread on the way to the cinema that I might fall asleep and miss the whole film, but Carol was too good not to shout to the heavens about straight away. It brilliantly examines the journey through life to find your true self, to accept who you are and be proud of it, and the intimate connection only two people truly in love can experience. It's magnificent.

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