Sunday 17 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Carol by Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes's last visit to Cannes, in 1998 with Velvet Goldmine, was not the most fortunate, with many critics seemingly expecting another slice of Cool Britannia in the footsteps of Trainspotting, and not the contemplative and melancholic film the American director delivered. I even remember a member of the audience shouting "boring!" at the press screening back then. And now that his career has gone from strength to strength, he is back in the Croisette with Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt.

The film is set in the 50's, and in it, an older woman, Carol (Cate Blanchett), falls for a shy and younger shop assistant called Therese (Rooney Mara). Set in a gorgeously wintery New York, Carol is quite simply sublime. All the talent of Todd Haynes is in evidence, in the way he transcends what could have been a bland and melodramatic period adaption. While the Americana of the time is lovingly evoked, it never overpowers the film. Sets, costumes and period details are absolutely perfect, but they remain firmly at the service of the film and never take over. And the hypnotic score by Carter Burwell add to the film's pervading charm

It might sound like a stereotype, but this is a film in which a fleeting glance, a touch speak volumes, and makes you want to frame every single ravishingly composed shot. The first half of the film is a dance of seduction between the confident and classier Carol, and the confused and timid Therese, who picks up on the signals of the older woman, while not quite knowing what to do with them.

While society at the time did not look so kindly at that sort of union, Todd Haynes is very careful not to demonise Carol's husband Harge (Kyle Chandler). He is a broken man, with conflicting and raging emotions, who is fighting to keep his wife and save his marriage, even though he is fully aware that it is hopeless (we learn that this is not the first time Carol had a fling with another woman!). And there is an unexpected and devastating scene in the couple's lawyer office, during which, for all the bitterness of their dispute, remains of affections between the two emerge.

Cate Blanchett has recently delivered the absolute best and definitive female performance recently in Blue Jasmine, and yet she still manages to come close to this yet again, with a character full of strength, class and poise, with an almost predatory vibe to her but with a beating heart underneath that cover. The Australian actress is quite simply the best and most glamorous film star we have at the moment, following each towering performance with another one that nearly tops it up. And Carol is also the confirmation of the vast talent of Rooney Mara, who manages to express so much conflict and confusion with her trademark sad blue eyes, who always seem to be looking further away than any one of us can see.

Carol is a triumph, and the crowning glory of Todd Haynes's career.

Star rating: 

Carol was presented in the Official Selection, In Competition.

Carol. USA 2015. Directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson...

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