By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: Carol

Subtle, delicate, exquisite. Like staying up all night to witness the blooming of a flower, Todd Haynes’ Carol is something special.

carol

Critically, films like these make you want to emote and let go and bask in the effect they leave you with. The film is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, and lamentably I’ve no frame of reference with which to comment on the film’s fidelity to its source. I can, however, describe the way its restrained sensitivity made me feel as I walked away from the film, ruined and wistful and emotionally a mess. Full body chills danced across my skin as I reflected on the artistry, what it meant, and how great it is that it exists in a form as pure as it is.

Like a sort of Blue Jasmine is the Warmest Color, subject yourself to some of Cate Blanchett’s finest acting as she plays the socialite title role, meeting and eventually falling in love with humble store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara), a romance that in the 1950s is of course immoral, unlawful, or just plain sick. But despite the institutional ignorance and conservatism, there’s a complex feeling of sympathy for almost everyone in this film: when a naïve post-war world opens its eyes beyond the heteronormative utopia sold by corporations and governments and authorities, paradigms shift. People shatter. Lives are upended. Custody battles are warred through accusations of homosexuality. Confusion. Isolation. Tensions. Sadness.

The film expands to see the confused men on both sides of the coin, unable to comprehend the idea that women could love women—or as Therese says, to just love another person—and the treatment and context of the subject matter seems fair, given the time period, which is sold and told so unbelievably well. Carol has a husband (Kyle Chandler) and Therese has a Classic American boyfriend (Jake Lacy), and the latter initially seems like a sort of villain—he’s standing in the way of true love, right? But soon his traditional cheer and white-picket-fence goals becomes a beacon of existential melancholy, as Therese has a necessary heart to break in the pursuit of genuine emotion.

Haynes walks this balance so, so well, never painting anyone with too broad or harsh a stroke, or opting for an editorialized point-of-view. Phyllis Nagy’s stellar, careful script informs this openness: her adaptation is a romance at heart, but there is social drama, and there is history on the television sets these characters are watching. There is the reality of the setting, and there is exceptional maturity to its depiction.

Because the era itself is a character here, living and breathing with both flaws and good qualities and genuine aspiration, misguided as it may be. The utter perfection that is the costume and production design, where we’re able to fall in to the moment and sit listening to Billie Holiday’s “Easy Living” on vinyl, is so real it is almost not. I have lauded Blanchett’s performance here but opposite her is Mara, just as good and just as fine when juxtaposed against her object of forbidden affection. There’s dialogue to engage with and an Oscar Speech at the end to succumb to, but so much of this film could be watched in silence. The emotions gleaned simply through the eyes of these characters would be enough with their oceans of information, but they’re cast before Haynes’ masterful visual framing with see-it-thrice color and blocking motifs. It’s only day five, but Carol is currently the front-runner for best-in-show at Cannes, and if that is upended by the end of the festival by another drama this powerfully affecting, we’ll all be sopping messes along the Croisette.

 

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott