Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The 50 best films of 2015 / Carol / No 7

The 50 besfilmof 2015 

in thUS  

No 7 


Continuing our countdown of the best movies released in the US this year, we doff our hat to Todd Haynes’ beautifully dressed adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian-romance novel

Andrew Pulver
Thursday 10 December 2015 12.00 GMT

With Safe and Far from Heaven, director Todd Haynes has already proved himself a master at stories of brittle, repressed women struggling to access and express their innermost emotions. Thus his stewardship of an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical novel – published pseudonymously in 1952 as The Price of Salt – instantly appeared an inspired conjunction, especially with Cate Blanchett having already accepted one of the lead roles. “A frock film ... with Cate attached,” is how Haynes himself described Carol and, as a bare-bones conceptualisation, you can see how it suits him down to the ground.

Of course, there’s more to Carol than that. Highsmith’s novel described the tremulous progress of a love affair between a wannabe set designer working in a department store, and an older, fur-coated woman who stops in to buy Christmas presents. Haynes’s film version is tremendously atmospheric, with near-fetishistic levels of attention to detail in bringing the period backdrop to life. (It would be hard to top the laser-eyed concentration on colour co-ordination and soft furnishings that Haynes displayed in Far From Heaven, but Carol is easily its equal.)

But Carol benefits hugely from its two principal actors, Blanchett and Rooney Mara, who distil exactly the right kind of neurotic energy required for the roles. Blanchett’s has a more maternal yet predatory dimension – her character, after all, is the older, and the initiator, but also has more to lose – while Mara radiates a prickly naivete that makes her Therese Belivet harder to like, but somehow just as intriguing. Without these two tremendously sensitive performances, Carol would be in danger of becoming a frock movie and little else; but, aided by the script’s fractured chronology, it becomes a sculptured, restrained treatment of a surging, emotional relationship. 

Lesbian-themed romances may no longer command the same level of hostility from the mainstream audience as they once did, but Carol is still a pretty rare beast. It’s neither a cautionary tale, nor special-pleading empowerment; nor it is especially political or celebratory. Instead, it does its best to avert its eyes from its own cinematic novelty; like Brokeback Mountain, its direct male equivalent, it goes about its business with a quiet confidence, mining its complex relationship configuration for empathetic human drama. What has resulted is a film of the highest quality.

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