The 67th Venice Film Festival opened here last evening with Darren Aronofsky’s deeply disturbing psychological thriller, Black Swan that takes us into the fascinating and intriguing world of ballet.
Academy Award nominee Natalie Portman plays ballet dancer Nina, who is consumed by a frightening sense of insecurity, jealousy and destructiveness. It is this unnerving psyche of the young ballerina that Aronofsky’s explores through his dramatisation of the classical legend of Swan Queen.
The New York artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), looking for a fresh face for his new production, Swan Lake, zeroes in on Nina. He wants the same girl to essay both the White Swan and the Black Swan. While Nina is perfect as the white bird with its innocence and grace, she does not quite fit in as the Black Swan, which is an epitome of guile and sensuality. Nina’s competitor, Lily (Mila Kunis), seems aptly suited to be the black bird.
Black Swan is far from a typical thriller. It has nothing to do with crime or haunted mansions. Rather, the movie travels deep into the mind of a ballerina, whose passion for perfection becomes an obsession, and pushes her into a horrible crevice. Nina finds it difficult to emerge from it.
Aronofsky told a press conference soon after the screening of Black Swan that although he started thinking about this story 15 years ago, the film could actually be called a companion piece for his most recent work, The Wrestler. The two movies are tied together by themes of bodily extremes, souls in turmoil and by a filmmaking style that pulls the audience inside the characters’ fascinating inner worlds.
“Some people call wrestling the lowest of art forms, and some call ballet the highest of art forms, yet there is something elementally the same. Mickey Rourke as a wrestler was going through something very similar to Natalie Portman as a ballerina,” Aronofsky explained. “They are both artists who use their bodies to express themselves and they are both threatened by physical injury, because their bodies are the only tool they have for expression. What was interesting for me was to find these two connected stories in what might appear to be unconnected worlds.”
Portman, who was also at the conference, said she was curious when Aronofsky told her years ago when they had discussed the project that Black Swan required her to make love to herself.
Already the movie has acquired a certain seductive attraction with the promos showing a lesbian scene between Portman and Kunis. This could entice audiences not particularly keen on seeing a film about ballet.
But what is greatly gripping about the work is the trace of the macabre: Clint Mansell’s score, which expands on Tchaikovsky’s original Swan Lake, heightens this effect considerably. Complimenting this is the horror genre sound design.
Yet, Aronofsky is not a Brian De Palma with his erotic escapades. Aronofsky is closer to the early Roman Polanski and David Cronenberg. One is reminded of Rosemary’s Baby while one is watching Black Swan.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is at Venice for the 10th year)