“Carol” rates as one of the most romantic films of 2015. But whereas most romantic movies involve some form of love triangle (as per the recent “Brooklyn”), this film is more of a convoluted square – a ‘love trapezium’ perhaps – with significant lesbian content. In fact the film bears many similarities to “Brooklyn” – both films are set around the late 40’s / early 50’s; both are set in New York; and both concern the love interest of a department store shop-girl. There though the similarities end.
Cate Blanchett plays the rich and privileged Carol Belivet with Rooney Mara (”The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) as the shop-girl Therese, with broader photojournalism ambitions. Therese becomes instantly attracted to her in a US society much less tolerant of homosexuality than current times. In fact in a era before ‘gay bars’ it is quite mystical how these relationships ever got voiced and consummated (Carol – “Ask me the questions…. Please”).
Carol’s similar passion, with childhood friend Abby (Sarah Paulson from “12 Years a Slave”), has driven a wedge through her marriage to the not unreasonably frustrated Harge (Kyle Chandler from “Super 8” and “Zero Dark Thirty”). Their young daughter Rindy (twins Sadie and Kk Helm) is the pawn in the ongoing marital battle.
The film is exquisitely put together. Let’s start for once with the music by Carter Burwell (“Twilight”, “Fargo”) which grabs the attention from the first frame; a luscious melody of cello and piano that sets the tone of the film perfectly. Add in to the mix a plethora of music from the era and you have a beautifully dynamic soundtrack that I would like to see up for an Oscar nomination.
While I’ve never personally been a mad fan of Cate Blanchett’s acting, here her affected manner suits the role to a T. But the real star turn of the piece is Rooney Mara. Channeling a young Audrey Hepburn, Mara is utterly compelling to look at as she rides the roller-coaster of Patricia Highsmith’s story (“The Price of Salt”). For me, an Oscar nomination shoe-in.
Between them the pair build up an extraordinary sexual tension throughout the film, with the camera taking long lingering shots of Carol’s fingers and body. This tension rises relentlessly until the inevitable scene of release, which is done with lots of flesh and eroticism but also with real gentleness and beauty, reminiscent of “Desert Hearts”. (Mara also looks gorgeous: as Therese opens her gown, Carol breathes “I’ve never looked like that” and you can hear all of the women in the audience silently agreeing with her!)
There’s a significant twist in the tale though, which you don’t see coming and which adds a different dimension to the film (albeit one that feels as a viewer rather unwelcome).
The art department also supplies fodder for the Oscar cannon. Legendary costume designer and multiple Academy Award winner Sandy Powell delivers fantastic period costumes. And both the cinematography and film editing by Edward Lachman and Affonso Gonçalves respectively is gorgeous: a scene of Therese on a train panning through steamy windows to her arrival at home by taxi is a masterclass in composition and editing. In the director’s chair is Todd Haynes, none of whose previous cinema releases (dating back to 1991) I recognise…. but he’s nailed this one.
Whilst the subject matter might prove challenging for those who feel uncomfortable watching a bit of ’girl on girl action’ the film is a beautiful love story. A film deserving respect and recommended for anyone who has a beating heart, and particularly (I would imagine, given the book’s loyal following) those in all female relationships.
Fad Rating: FFFF.