Black Swan, the psychological thriller in pointe shoes starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, debuted at the Venice Film Festival Wednesday night. The film received a standing ovation from the festival crowd. But how about the critics? Well, early consensus is that it’s pretty crazy. The only question is crazy good or crazy crazy.
Set in the pressure-packed world of petite prima ballerina, the Darren Aronofsky film follows Nina (Portman), a dancer with the New York Ballet poised to take over the lead in Swan Lake who feels threatened when rival dancer Lily (Kunis) arrives on the scene. And by “feels threatened” I mean goes all sorts of crazy.
From there on out reality blurs, sexuality oozes — I’ve mentioned Natalie and Mila kiss and much more, right?
A round-up of critical consensus:
The Hollywood Reporter:
The movie combines horror-movie tropes with The Red Shoes, All About Eve and every movie about show business that insists you don’t have to be crazy to become a star but it doesn’t hurt either. The movie is so damn out-there in every way that you can’t help admiring Aronofsky for daring to be so very, very absurd.
London Evening Standard:
Ballet has never seemed so much like torture: toes are bloodied, muscles strained, bodies trussed. But the really convincing thing about the film is the way it keeps our sympathy with a character who is slowly going off the rails: never an easy task. And the 15-minute Swan Lake finale is a tour de force. Rarely has dance been used in film with such narrative thrust and verve, and rarely have the strains of dramatic performance been so intriguingly unpicked.
Powerful, gripping and always intriguing, it also features a lead performance from Natalie Portman that elevates her from a substantial leading actress to major star likely to be lifting awards in the near future.
Pushing herself into Nina’s life in a different way is company newcomer Lilly (Mila Kunis), who’s as loose and uninhibited as Nina is frigid and constipated. At first offering herself up as a friend, Lilly morphs into a conniving rival, at least in Nina’s mind, which brims with paranoid fantasies. Lilly also becomes a source of potential erotic pleasure, to the point where an intense girl-on-girl encounter seems to provide Nina with the physical breakthrough she’s needed, even if, again, this was just a figment of her dangerously accelerating imagination.
Already the film has acquired a certain lesbian allure, courtesy of a trailer that somewhat unfairly teases a scandalous Portman-Kunis love scene. This footage will no doubt help to entice ballet-averse auds, though Black Swan is anything but a Brian De Palma-style erotic escapade (superficial echoes of Sisters and Femme Fatale notwithstanding).
Like Nina herself, the director often risks losing his footing but that is what makes the filmmaking so exhilarating. Some scenes are overwrought. Others (notably a clumsily shot lesbian sequence) verge on the prurient. More often, the effect is enthralling.
Hmm, so that big lesbian moment may be a big lesbian let down between Natalie and Mila? Well, at least the kiss is hot. It is also worth noting that all the reviewers so far have been men. So make of that what you will.
I’ve read the original script and from the trailer it seems the sex scene in question has been shot largely as on the page. This means we’re in for a confusing, though hopefully sexy, scenario. I mean, look at this trailer again, I’m not sure “clumsy” is the adjective I’d use.
So, what do you think? Do the critics make you want to rush out to the ballet?