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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“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

It wasn’t easy. We started back in July 2018, it was actually on the Fourth of July – that was our first shoot. It’s like most documentaries in that the further you go along the more involved and obsessed you get, and you just start shooting more and more and more. We threw ourselves into this crazy year in Chicago. We got up every day and tried to figure out if we should be out shooting or not, and what it is we should shoot. We were trying to balance following this massive political story of the mayor’s race and these significant moments like the Laquan McDonald trial with taking the pulse of people in the city that we encounter along the way and getting a sense of their lives and what it means to live here. By election day, Zak Piper, our producer, had something like six cameras out in the field. You could double-check that, it might have been seven. We had this organized team effort to hit all the candidates as they were voting, if they hadn’t already voted. We hit tons of polling places, were at the Board of Elections and then were at the parties for the candidates that we had been able to follow closely. Then of course, we were trying to make sure we were at the parties of the candidates who made it to the runoff. So, yeah, it was kind of a monster.”
~ Steve James On City So Real

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho