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In an adaption of Patricia Highsmith's seminal novel "The Price of Salt", Carol follows two women from very different backgrounds who find themselves in an unexpected love affair in 1950's New York. As conventional norms of the time challenge their undeniable attraction, an honest story emerges to reveal the resilience of the heart in the face of change. A young woman in her 20s, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), is a clerk working in a Manhattan department store and dreaming of a more fulfilling life when she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring woman trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage. As an immediate connection sparks between them, the innocence of their first encounter dims and their connection deepens. While Carol breaks free from the confines of marriage, her husband (Kyle Chandler) begins to question her competence as a mother as her involvement with Therese and close relationship with her best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) come to light. (From the Anchor Bay synopsis)

 Carol
Carol is my number one film of 2015. Usually the movies that stand apart from the pack are ones that convey specific feelings to me in a way few other movies can. I loved 45 Years (also in my top 5 of 2015) for the way it captured the bitter feelings of a marriage gone sour. For Carol, it is the way director Todd Haynes, cinematographer Edward Lachman, and composer Carter Burwell combine efforts to capture the melancholy longing at the heart of the story's characters. If I told you the events of the story in Carol they would probably elicit a shrug. The story beats are familiar and unsubstantial in a vacuum. The power of the film lies in the presentation and how perfectly tuned it is, with every little subtlety, to place the viewer in the shoes of its protagonists.

I can't think of another film off the top of my head that achieves empathy the way Carol does. The filmmaking feels so embedded in the minds and hearts of Carol and Therese that understanding their feelings is effortless, and they don't have to utter a word. This would not be possible without strong lead performers. Cate Blanchett is as reliable as ever. Rooney Mara gives the performance of her young career. You could spend multiple viewings dissecting the language of her stare, be it a glimpse of Carol across a department store or a dreamy gaze on a car ride. Facial expressions and body language are everything in this kind of storytelling and the cast is up to it. Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson also give strong supporting performances.

 Carol
The startling empathy is also the result of Edward Lachman and Carter Burwell in the visual and sound departments. My knowledge of cameras and lenses leaves me unprepared to explain what Lachman does, but his use of depth and camera movements that slowly proceed inward are striking. Burwell's melancholy score lingers beautifully over ever scene. Everything is in service of the characters. You could fill a book on the way Carol and Therese study each other. Maybe someone already did... I haven't read the source material. I don't think I'm spoiling too much when I say there is a sex scene in Carol. Often in a romance story this is an inevitable, almost obligatory culmination of events. In Carol it feels like relief from suffocation. It feels as necessary to the characters as the air they breathe. I've never felt that in a movie before and the intricate filmmaking plays a huge part in that.

 Carol

Video


This is one of those films where scoring it on a 1 to 10 scale can be tricky. Our scoring system tries to take into account both the visual fidelity of the blu-ray transfer and our thoughts on the film's visual style itself. Sometimes a disc can be very impressive on a technical level but if we think it has a bland visual style that could lose it some points. Carol has the opposite problem, in that it is a gorgeously shot picture but the 16mm format does not lend itself to the power of Blu-ray very well. I was surprised by how similar the image on this disc was to the DVD award screener I received. That said, the 16mm look is a great aesthetic choice for the 1950's setting and the softer look contributes to the dreamy nature of the film. Of course, as a result, detail is not nearly as good as it could be on the format. The feature itself has a high bitrate on a BD-50 and digital artefacts are not an issue.

Audio


The real star of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the work of composer Carter Burwell. If my preferences won out he would've taken home the Oscar for best score this year, but it's hard to be upset about Morricone winning. The rest of the track is unassuming, but appropriately so. There's some scattered ambient noise at a restaurant or in the streets, as their should be, but nothing to really make you stop and notice the extra channels at use. As with the 16mm image, it suits the material and it is pleasant to the ears. There isn't a bombastic thing about it. I imagine it would actually be a great movie to listen to while falling asleep.

 Carol

Extras


Special features are small in number but of good quality. The Behind the Scenes Gallery (HD, 35:56) is actually an in depth making-of that is divided up into different sections on the main menu. There is a "play all" button that will show it like one big feature. The format is a predictable mixture of behind the scenes footage, final film footage and interviews with the cast and crew, but everyone has good insight to give and it never feels like advertising fluff. The other extra, Q&A Highlights with Filmmakers & Cast (HD, 29:25) is also better than it sounds. Most extras of this type will just be raw footage of a single Q&A where maybe 1 or 2 minutes of the material is actually interesting. This is good footage from multiple Q&As assembled into a very worthwhile half hour.

Overall


Carol is a lovely film both in its aesthetic and in the story it tells. Every part of the filmmaking seems designed to put you in the mind of the protagonists and it totally worked on me. I can't recall the last time I felt such warmth toward fictional characters. It ranks with Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood For Love in terms of achingly beautiful portraits of romantic longing, and that's about as high as my compliments get. Even though 16mm doesn't make the most of the Blu-ray format, this release from Anchor Bay has a high quality transfer and audio to match. There's only a couple of extras but both are solid.

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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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