Carol ★★★★★

When Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt was first published in 1952, she was forced to use a pseudonym because of the novels frank and honest portrayal of its gay characters - a story out and ahead of its own time with a rooted and unhesitant realism inspired by events that transpired around her own life. Carol’s arrival in the 21st Century then feels almost conceived for the perspective of a now modern audience, as originally intended as opposed to its retroactive progression. Still maintaining that taste of sincerity that kept it from falling into obscurity, Carol is a picture that looks at human beings as artefacts, the collected efforts of their own endeavours to be captured in a moment by the spiralling emotions that rule our guidance – a deep, fervent and touching story of the messy complexities of love in all its glory.

Reunited with Haynes following their tremendous work together on I’m Not There, Cate Blanchett gives a heartbreaking performance of stern, broken humanity that carries with it all the grace of some of the screens greatest icons. Blanchett sustains her presence as one of the finest performers of her generation, managing to convey the desperate loneliness underneath the surface of Carol’s demeanour as she smoulder’s her way into Therese’s (Mara) heart. A woman as enclosed within her own world as the bars to the underground which open the film, exhausted with the expectation of her class, stature and function as both a wife and a women, her rebellious antics take a gradual toll on both herself and the people that surround her – including former lover Sarah Paulson and her husband, Harge, played by the otherwise delightful Kyle Chandler. Harge might be the manipulator and supposed enemy of the story, but his motivation is driven by his longing for Carol in the same way as those around her, allowing them both to fall into disarray as they attempt to destroy each other over love – including that which they share with their daughter, Rindy.

The other reason we are as drawn towards Carol as a figure falls to the efforts of Rooney Mara, delivering yet another pitch perfect performance as the faint, porcelain picture of her Carol’s desires – matching all of her natural beauty with a youthful tinge of boyish charm. Her unwillingness to settle down with her boyfriend (Lacy) is a symptom of an entire generations’ unwillingness to follow in the ridged footsteps of the former generation. We see Carol through the eyes of someone yearning for the eloquence and picturesque perfection of someone like her, Carol may refer to her as “my angel, flung out of space”, but she too is as much is a glamorous beacon out of her own world as the idol that she makes of Therese.

Set in the seasonal American stylings of Christmas time, the film feels as cosy in its own skin as the characters in their draped overcoats, and carries with it a sense of soft traditionalism as time-honoured as the name and fashion of its focal character. Todd Haynes direction is a faultless achievement of blocking, editing and tonal symphony that marks Carol as his best picture to date. A man who has spent a career emulating the finest efforts of Hollywood’s golden age, from the rousing melodrama and colour of Douglas Sirk, to the performance rich character dealings of David Lean – and this feels like the final culmination of all of his efforts put together. Shot on beautiful Super 16mm film, it’s an affluent, gorgeous looking world that scrapes the surface of authenticity through the use of its grounded, three-dimensional characters as provided by Phyllis Nagy’s tight and resourceful screenplay that dwells on the playfulness of dialogue and physical interaction. The love scenes themselves, while few and far between, are less like the passionate frenzy of Blue is the Warmest Colour, and closer to the true meaning of the term ‘lovemaking’; suppler, close quarters and physical without divulging into stoic exhibition.

Much like Kar Wai Wong’s masterpiece In the Mood for Love, so much of the film's tension and emotional engagement grows from the tiniest instances of interaction between its two dazzling leads. The soft clench of a shoulder, that direct glance that lasted a little too long, all of which forms the pressure and power behind the thrust of the story, and makes you beg for that moment when they will both just come out and say the immortal words that they crave to hear and speak. Its edge-of-your-seat suspense in such a way that few other films this year have accomplished so effortlessly, making Carol one of the must see accomplishments of the year.

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