Cinematic Releases: Carol

Andrew reviews the new Todd Haynes Cannes favorite, Carol. 

carol movie
Stop kissing me and
calling me Kate Hepburn, damn it!
American film director Todd Haynes is arguably contemporary queer cinema's Douglas Sirk of our generation, or at least the Ranier Werner Fassbinder.  A gifted and sensitive artist behind such masterworks as Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven and Safe, Mr. Haynes unquestionably stands in an era of directors such as Gregg Araki and John Cameron Mitchell at the very top of the list of New Queer Cinema auteurs.  Often utilizing old fashioned technicolor melodrama as the framework for his films, taking cues from Sirk's All That Heaven Allows with a dash of Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Haynes' often unconventional narrative approach to his films are less about his sexually conflicted characters as they are about the social constructs which engender such conflicts.  Far more astute than Ang Lee's straight-eye-for-the-queer-guy Brokeback Mountain and less shocking than Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin, Haynes occupies a space in Hollywood history that has a greater understanding of classical melodrama and keen attention to camera placement, shot arrangement and editing than most of his contemporaries would like to think.  With his new film Carol, a 1952 set period drama about a young photographer named Therese (Rooney Mara) who engages in a love affair with a married woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett), Haynes has inarguably turned over another masterpiece and one of the year's prettiest looking films.

Shot on Super 16mm by the great cinematographer and frequent Haynes collaborator Ed Lachmann (Erin Brockovich, The Virgin Suicides), Carol immediately bears the distinction of a lush projected-on-a-thick-carpet visual texture with heavy grains, intentional softness and saturated colors.  Reminiscent of 1950s Technicolor melodramas, hence the Sirk connection, the viewer is thrust into the past as though it were a painterly snapshot by a gifted still photographer.  There's also, for those who are really looking, a subtle shift in brightness and contrast over the course of the picture, beginning in soft, dimly lit purplish hues before the intensification of the two leads' relationship gradually brightens the image noticeably higher over the course of the movie.  Special attention to detail is paid on the set and costume design of the era, right down to the interior decor of a record store to the local shopping mall that will no doubt remind some viewers of Macy's from the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street.  Also strong and uniquely affecting is Coen Brothers' frequent collaborator Carter Burwell, who provides a score that is at once subtle, haunting and even exaltant, providing the melodrama with a rich flavor of extraordinary emotions.  It goes without saying the performances across the board are superb and Rooney Mara absolutely deserved the Best Actress Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival despite possibly being upstaged by Cate Blanchett on more than one occasion.  

carol movie
Sshhhhhh....I'm trying to get a photo
of the girl with a dragon tattoo. 
Unlike other recent LBGT films of recent times, the 11-years-in-preproduction Carol is simultaneously the most observant, insightful and startlingly reserved despite the film's R rating.  While not quite as sugar coated as Brokeback Mountain, it's not as in your face as something like Blue is the Warmest Color was either.  It's also one of the year's most sumptuous period dramas with it's glorious images and beautiful score by Carter Burwell.  Rooney Mara has always been a gifted actress from her ex-girlfriend to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network to her troubled femme-fatale in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but here she confidently comes into her own and has no problem sharing the screen with arguably our generation's new Katherine Hepburn.  While Haynes' work isn't necessarily going to shatter new ground or alter anyone's views on homosexuality on the past or future generations, this is one of the most exquisitely dovetailed cinematic experiences you're likely to have at the movies this year and a sumptuous love letter to Sirk and Fassbinder's melodramas.  If Carol proves anything to it's audience or it's titular photographer Therese's all-consuming love for Carol, it's that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.


-Andrew Kotwicki