Black Swan (UK - DVD R2)
Marcus has a black feather growing out of his shoulder. That's normal, right?
After getting chosen to play the lead in Swan Lake, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) struggles with her inability to capture the black swan side of her character and pushes herself to find the darker aspect of her nature. With her neurotic mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), her unreasonable director, Leroy, (Vincent Cassel) piling on the pressure and a new upcoming dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), seemingly waiting to swoop in and take the role at any sign of Nina’s weakness, the pressure is building and this talented ballerina’s mental state begins to crumble.
Well Aronofsky isn’t here to fuck about is he? From his indie hit Pi, through the shockingly memorable Requiem for Dream, the beautiful The Fountainand the Oscar darling The Wrester he's placed a stamp on the movie world and has become one of the most exciting directors around. Now with Black Swan he takes us somewhere else and it really does show a director who’s utterly unafraid to make the movie he wants to make and more incredibly his audience seems to grow despite the less than friendly almost anti box office themes he tackles. All that alone is enough to praise this director but we’re here to talk about Black Swan right? So let’s do just that.
Black Swan was a weird one. For starters everyone seemed to have seen it. Over Oscar season people I know that never go to the cinema got up and went for this movie. There were genuine conversations about it in the office I work in (which trust me is an anomaly), and this wasn’t just movie enthusiasts, this was everyone. Black Swan seemed to have caught people’s attention and what’s even stranger (and actually sort of refreshing) is that they responded positively to it. This movie, this dark, sort of scary, sort of twisted, emotional, intelligent, not straightforward movie about obsession, fear, paranoia and generally making the audience feel uneasy, had everyone on its side and there wasn’t a giant robot, superhero or a cute girl falling over a telephone cord in it once. Now that truly is a breakthrough right?
Natalie Portman truly did deserve every award she got and many more. Her performance takes everything we love about Portman and just slightly fine tunes it for the movie’s uneasy atmosphere. There’s something going on behind her eyes in this one that totally sells the situation and we get to absolutely feel every bit of anguish this dancer is going through thanks to how Aronofsky decided to construct the movie. Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey totally sell the pressure/evil in the movie and their negative criticising presence is felt every time they enter a scene and as for Mila Kunis, it’s great to see her in a role like this and Aronofsky always keeps the audience on their toes about how we should feel about her. All of these performances come together in Black Swan and each and every one of them add to the unease of the unfolding of Nina’s struggles to deal with her performance. To say more would be slipping too far into spoiler territory and honestly I think Black Swan sort of demands the viewer’s own personal take on the twists, turns and turmoil of Nina Sayers, so story wise I’ll wrap it up there.
On a personal note I have to say that while I was in awe of Black Swan and still am, especially with the mood it generates and sustains, I sort of come away from it clean and it didn’t really stick with me. Don’t get me wrong, the movie had me in the palm of its hand throughout and I felt every beat. Even on second viewing I really liked the sense of knowing the outcome and really concentrating on certain moments and scenes while keeping my take on the end in mind, but even on this rewatch I still sort of left the movie with nothing to delve deeper into. It could be that Aronofsky has presented a near perfect complete picture or maybe I’m just happy with what I felt the story was about and don’t feel the need to dissect further but either way even though I really liked the movie it wasn’t one that wove its way into my head and stayed with me.
Visually speaking Black Swan is a purposely gritty film so yes that means grain but what an atmosphere this adds. The dim, quite natural colours add to the movie's realism and with skin tones being the only things glowing (mainly Natalie’s rosy cheeks) it’s left to the lighting of the movie to take the lead. The general look of the film is quite warm. There’s an orange glow to a lot of scenes and when the coldness of Nina’s situation is at its peak and everything gets a bit paler you feel the counterpoint. In some of the dance scenes the spotlighting can really make the image look incredibly striking, especially the final Black Swan performance moments with Nina dancing in and out of the darkness of the stage.
I’m quite looking forward to getting around to watching the Blu-ray version at some point soon as I’d be interested to see if the feeling of softness on this DVD is quite so apparent in HD but that said, this DVD feels like a good representation of the big screen experience of Black Swan really it’s only the standard definition formats limitations that let it down.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a powerful and absolutely effective affair. It's thanks in large part to the strength of the classical musical throughout but its emotional highs and lows are made all the more effective with the subtle and forceful sound effects that fill out the ambience of the movie. Rustling feathers, weird little noises and a generally odd sounds slither into the track or full on creep you out and their varying power is always striking. The range of the track is quite astonishing with layer upon layer of sound building to generate the desired unease in scenes.
Countering that is the silence and a lot of the time the silent scenes, with their realistic acoustics, over emphasis of atmospherics and general creepiness are as effective as the fuller moments. With these more talky moments, small things still pop up. Rear speakers make a simple opening door feel ominous, whispering can be a real unsettling affair and even the tapping of little ballerina feet can make for unease. Add to that the little snippets of music that come and go without any other reason than to beef up the atmosphere and this really is a track that’s importance to the film is handled brilliantly.
Sadly the only extra here is a digital copy of the film, so a bit of a disappointment.
Black Swan is another fantastic film from Darren Aronosky with a stunning central performance from Portman that is absolutely captivating. The DVD release is a featureless let down but the visuals and especially the audio are great so it’s not all bad news.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 16th May 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Audio Decription English
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis
Length: 103 minutes
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