Tuesday’s Reviews – Carol (2016)

Cate Blanchett, films, fucking beautiful, fucking sweet, fucking tragic, review

I’m currently away for a few days with my family and, during my week off, I had planned to watch today’s film and have the review ready to go. As usual, my aims for the blog didn’t quite work out so I only got round to viewing it on Sunday. Then I madly tried to scrabble the post together in between packing. So I have little hope that this will be my finest work. Nut considering I put off seeing this film for so long it was probably doomed from the start. I really wanted to watch Carol last year but I never got round to it. I suppose it was because I’d only heard amazing things about it. It always worries me when I desperately want to see something and it gets astounding reviews. It can only lead to disappointment. It seemed to have everything though: the brilliant Cate Blancett and Rooney Mara and a vintage feel. Still, as a lifelong cynic when it comes to romance, I may have been a little put off by the concept. An epic love story that builds from that classic rom-com cliche love at first sight. Now that I’m no longer 8 years old and wish I were a Disney Princess. I’m just not really into that concept. Although, considering the films is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel I was fairly confident that it wasn’t going to be too similar to those awful Tom Hank/Meg Ryan rom-coms from the 80s. I just needed to wait until my excitement had died down before I finally watched it.

There is a dreamy haze that settles over Carol and makes the 1950s seem like some sort of fantasy world. It means that the story, about a woman who’s unhappy marriage is ending falling in love with a young woman, has an unrelenting air of romance and mystery. Which, when added to the incredible performances from it’s leading women, makes it impossible not to get swept away with everything. Carol is such a visually spectacular film and director Todd Hayne’s has created a world full of delicate little details. Everything in Carol is suggestive yet subtle. Sex oozes from everything on screen but every single detail on screen is perfect and thought out. It is a visual battle that emphasises the battle going on before you eyes: the one between an expected 1950s stoicism and the secret passions bubbling underneath. This is a film that deals with the inner struggle between going after what you want and hiding your deepest desires because society doesn’t approve. It’s captivating from start to finish.

Carol has been adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, originally written under a pseudonym. The film depicts the relationship between a woman (Cate Blanchett) heading towards a divorce and her chance encounter with a shop assistant (Rooney Mara). Whilst trying to buy her daughter a Christmas present, Carol, takes the advice of Therese and orders a train set to be delivered to her house. Having left behind a pair of gloves which Therese returns, Carol insists on spending more time with the young girl and the pair eventually fall in love. Unfortunately, Carol is going through a divorce with her frustrated husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler). Feeling angry and betrayed at the discover that his wife was having an affair with a woman and is about to embark on another, Harge threatens to take their child away from her mother. Carol must decide what it is she is more willing to do: live a lie to keep her daughter or allow herself to be truly free.

It’s a film that is built on these types of dualities; something that is so key with all of Highsmith’s novels. Cate Blanchett is on top form as the woman struggling with this decision. It is an unforgettable performance that mixes a predatory older woman with a youthful smattering of self-doubt. Carol has put on a front for most of her life but, when she meets Therese, she becomes vulnerable and open. She doubts herself and her motives. It’s such a considered portrayal and Blanchett is only making is more difficult to top herself. Rooney Mara is equally captivating and offers a delicate performance full of fear, confusion, and isolation. Therese has an almost endless stream of potential male suitors but always feels that something is missing. Her first glimpse of Carol in the toy department starts to make things a little clearer. It’s a fantastic scene in which the camera pans past Carol only to pan back to focus on her. It’s a beautiful and life-changing moment.

Carol is a beautiful film in every aspect and everything comes together to convey this love story. The costume, set design, and the colour palette portray world that seems both alien and familiar. The decision to film on Super 16mm gives it a historic feeling but everything still feels contemporary. Everything that we see or hear in Carol is trying to hammer home the idea of doubles. The facade and the hidden faces. It is a society that resents the love that we see grow so sweetly. We see two women unable to openly admit their feelings or show the world the depths of their passion. They must play the role expected of them whilst secretly coming to terms with their new relationship. It is a heart-wrenching story that manages to both romanticise the experience of being a lesbian in the 1950s whist also showing the depressing and difficult reality. The performances and production are incredible and come together to make a film that I wish I’d seen earlier.

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