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 Atlantic: You saw that the Academy Awards recently held up your 2001 acceptance speech as the Platonic ideal of an Oscar speech. Did you have a reaction?

Soderbergh: Shock and dismay. When that popped up and people started texting me about it, I said, “Oh, it’s too bad I’m not there to tell the story of how that took place.” Well. I was not sober at the time. And I had nothing prepared because I knew I wasn’t going to win [Best Director for Traffic]. I figured Ridley, Ang or Daldry would win. So I was hitting the bar pretty hard, having a great night, feeling super-relaxed because I don’t have to get up there. So the combination of a 0.4 blood alcohol level and lack of preparation resulted in me, in my state of drunkenness crossed with adrenaline surge. I was coherent enough to know that [if I tried to thank everyone], that way lies destruction. So I went the other way. There were some people who appreciated that, and there were some people who really wanted to hear their names said, and I had to apologize to them.
~ Steven Soderbergh

 

“I have made few films in a way. I never made action films. I never made science fiction films. I never made, really, very complicated settings, because I had modest ambitions. I knew they would never trust me to have the budget to do something different, so my mind is more focused on things I know. So they were always mental adventures I wanted to approach and share. Working for cinema with no – not only no money, but also no ambition for money. I was happy and proud [to receive the honorary Oscar] because of that, that [the Academy] could understand what kind of work I have done over 60 years. I stayed faithful to the ideal of sharing emotion, impressions, and mostly because I have so much empathy for other people that I approach people who are not really spoken about. I have 65 years of work in my bag, and when I put the bag down, what comes out? It’s really the desire of finding links and relationships with different kinds of people. I never made a film about the bourgeoisie, about rich people. about nobility. My choices have been to show people that are, in a way, more common and see that each of them has something special and interesting, rare and beautiful. It’s my natural way of looking at people. I didn’t fight my instincts. And maybe that has been appreciated in the famous circle of Hollywood.“

Agnes Varda