‘Black Swan’ still the talk of the Lido

Posted by · 10:09 am · September 2nd, 2010

Two days into the Venice Film Festival, and still the only film I consistently hear people talking about is “Black Swan” — even as the film accrues its share of detractors, it seems Venice fest director Marco Müller has broken the traditional curse of festival curtain-raisers, kicking off this year’s Lido activity with a film people actually give a damn about. (As Variety’s Justin Chang rather succinctly put it on Twitter: “In the battle of opening-night films: Venice 1, Cannes 0.”)

Meanwhile, its kinship with Aronofsky’s previous feature, “The Wrestler,” has grown from an interesting side-note broken a few days ago into the most recurrent point of discussion around the film; Aronofsky addressed the matter directly in the film’s press conference yesterday, from which USA Today offers this quote:

The more I looked into the world of ballet, I actually started to see all these similarities to the world of wrestling … They both have these performers that use their bodies in sort of extremely, intense physical ways. Their entire performance is based on intense physicality.

This chimes in with the observation I made in my own review that “[b]oth [films] are studies of performers destructively addicted to their art, and the new film maintains the director’s fascination with the broken bodies of such individuals.”

The longer I dwell on it, the more I think that an awards attention that comes Natalie Portman’s way will be predicated more on the physical commitment of her performance than anything else: the same USA Today piece mentions the actress’s gruelling training program in preparation for the film (six months of extensive ballet, swimming and cross-training practice, before an extra serving of intricate choreography lessons), and I except we’ll keep hearing these method-y details repeated on the campaign track.

Readers keep asking me about the Oscar potential of the film, but I remain guarded: Kris will see the film soon enough, and his instincts in such matters are sharper than mine. Anne Thompson and I agreed at lunch today that the film has its work cut out for it in the top races — wild psychodrama not being the Academy’s strong point, particularly if critical opinion turns out to be split — and the extent to which voters (and audiences) warm to her vehicle will be a determining factor for Portman, given how deep the Best Actress field already looks.

But that’s us. Others are convinced that Portman has the nomination licked regardless of the film’s fate, most notably Screen International editor Mike Goodridge:

If the film is ultimately too unsettling to snag main prizes, it has at least one nomination in the bag for lead actress Natalie Portman who gives one of “those” performances, transforming herself after ten months of training into an accomplished ballerina, almost uncomfortable to watch as she consumes her difficult role… Like Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion or Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, she captures the confusion of a repressed young woman thrown into a world of danger and temptation with frightening veracity.

I’d be more assuaged by Goodridge’s conviction if he didn’t use as his reference points two performances that the Academy wasn’t ballsy enough to honor in the 1960s, but perhaps we’ve moved on. If the Venice jury hand her the Volpi Cup, things will brighten considerably for her (though for every Colin Firth that begins their Oscar trail with that very award, there’s a Ben Affleck that falls off course), but the festival is still young … and there’s still the Toronto crowd to please. Ask me in two weeks’ time.

[Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures]

→ 23 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

23 responses so far

  • 1 9-02-2010 at 10:22 am

    Fitz said...

    I’m liking that an Aronofsky film is getting any awards coverage at all. Granted The Wrestler did, but mostly just for Rourke’s performance.

    I was heart-broken that The Fountain (my top film of the decade) didn’t get any recognition at all. Hopefully Black Swan can make up for that.

  • 2 9-02-2010 at 12:09 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    i hope its a great movie first and foremost, if so awards wont really matter

  • 3 9-02-2010 at 12:12 pm

    Danny King said...

    Guy, is Anne as enthusiastic about the film as you are?

  • 4 9-02-2010 at 12:17 pm

    billybil said...

    2 in one day! From a film festival, no less! Aren’t you seeing any movies? (tee hee)

    A wonderful follow-up on your great review. And thanks for letting us know the “talk on the street” – those are the details we want to hear (at least, I do). I think you’re certainly earning your bread so far at this festival.

    I appreciate your reluctance to tout Portman at this stage for an Oscar nomination – it assists me in understanding why courageous, ballsy performances (Swinton last year?!) really don’t translate into nominations. Reading about this example now, from the beginnng and, I hope, following your observations about this particular performance in context of the nominations from here on in, could provide a remarkable insight into how the “system” works (or doesn’t, depending on one’s perspective).

    It was funny but I personally enjoyed your positive review of SWAN more than your negative review of MIRAL (although you did make me laugh few times). The truth is, I guess, I’m so tired of being disappointed in movies and your review captures the very reasons that this one will disappoint me. I think that’s excellent review writing, Mr. Lodge, helping me understand where and why a film that purports to be one thing – especially stemming from such pedigree (I found DIVING BELL to be fascinatingly entertaining) – turns out to be another (or, at least, less). Thanks, as always.

  • 5 9-02-2010 at 12:46 pm

    James D. said...

    I wonder if it is time to start calling Darren Aronofsky the greatest working director. He releases three times in the time Malick makes one, and Paul Thomas Anderson is starting to develop a Malick-ian pace as well.

  • 6 9-02-2010 at 1:23 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    James I hear ya but I don’t think I would hold it against a director (Malick, PTA, QT) if they don’t work as often as others. Nor would I hold that against an actor (DDL).

    Darren is definitely among the top five greatest working directors. Malick, PTA, Coens, QT, Fincher, Bong Joon would probably round it out for me personally.

  • 7 9-02-2010 at 1:34 pm

    James D. said...

    I know what you mean, Matthew. Quality is more important than quantity, but I think Aronofsky’s three films are almost as good as those released at Malick and Anderson’s glacial pace. If Aronofsky can work at such high quality at such a higher pace, I think it makes him a little stronger as a director.

  • 8 9-02-2010 at 2:13 pm

    Fitz said...

    I didn’t mean to imply that the awards were more important than the quality of the film, but that awarding a truly great film would make the sting from not recognizing the others less bothersome.

    @Matthew Starr
    I would argue that the quality of Aronofsky’s last three films trumps Anderson’s (Much of There Will Be Blood’s success stems from Daniel Day-Lewis) and I’ve never been a huge admirer of Malick so I couldn’t speak to that.

  • 9 9-02-2010 at 2:24 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Are you people all taking crazy pills? Aronofsky is a mediocre talent (I obviously haven’t seen Black Swan yet) at best. As far as I can see, he hasn’t made anything that can stand toe to toe with even a scene from a Paul Thomas Anderson film.

  • 10 9-02-2010 at 2:26 pm

    Speaking English said...

    LOL, Chad is right. The success of “There Will Be Blood” stems from the its brilliant, operatic scope and epic storytelling. “Magnolia” is leagues above any Aronofsky picture as well.

  • 11 9-02-2010 at 2:26 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Although I wouldn’t call him mediocre.

  • 12 9-02-2010 at 2:28 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Wait, mediocre talent is a bit harsh. His films have some great aspects. But still, the guy is operating at a level I think we should consider just slightly above average.

  • 13 9-02-2010 at 3:35 pm

    Jim T said...

    “Portman has the nomination licked”

    Is that dirty talk? I didn’t get it :p

  • 14 9-02-2010 at 5:08 pm

    MovieMan said...

    “There Will Be Blood” is far from a great film.

  • 15 9-02-2010 at 6:27 pm

    Andrew M said...

    @James D.- Another aspect for the pace PTA and Malick go at is they write their movies. Granted Aronofsky did co-write his first few movies, but his last two were written by some one else. Also, Malick does work extremely slow, I know that. PTA is, IMO, the greatest working director, followed closely by the directors Mat mentioned.

  • 16 9-02-2010 at 6:40 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    @MovieMan: Instead, it’s the definition of a great film.

  • 17 9-02-2010 at 7:06 pm

    James D. said...

    Well, Chad, I would disagree heavily. Anderson versus Aronofsky, for me at least, would be:

    Punch-Drunk Love > There Will Be Blood > The Wrestler > Magnolia > Requiem for a Dream.

    With the others falling behind those.

    While Anderson’s are better, it is not by a huge degree. I give Aronofsky the edge based on his level of output.

  • 18 9-02-2010 at 7:13 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Swinton received no traction because her distributor couldn’t afford to mount a campaign but Fox Searchlight sure can. They also like encouraging ingénues. Is Portman still young enough to be considered one?

  • 19 9-02-2010 at 7:58 pm

    MovieMan said...

    The Other James D.: For me, it’s the definition of a wasted opportunity. And Day-Lewis’ fiery performance simply called attention to the weaknesses around him. The film just did not work for me.

  • 20 9-02-2010 at 11:40 pm

    Fitz said...

    Well Chad, again I’d have to disagree but you are well entitled to your opinion, but you really didn’t plan on giving Black Swan a chance anyway.

    As for the rest of this debate I don’t want to take anything away from Anderson to build up Aronofsky, so I won’t.

  • 21 9-02-2010 at 11:45 pm

    Aaron G said...

    i’m with chad on this. i’m definitely looking forward to black swan, but cautiously. requiem for a dream is one of my favorite books and aronofsky just turned it into an over-the-top piece of shit (spare me the bullshit about selby co-writing the script–he didn’t co-direct it). sure, there’s high drama in the book, but selby wrote all of the sara stuff in a very different voice than he did with the other characters. aronofsky just shot the whole movie in that absurd in-your-face style where everything is cranked up to 11. he was just too heavy-handed and tone deaf to add subtlety or nuance to anything.

    and those fears were confirmed with the fountain. i’ve never had such acute second-hand embarrassment as i did when i saw the fountain in the theater. over-the-top, hammy jackman with over-the-top hammy aronofsky was just a nightmare scenario. aronofsky literally thinks that being enlightened means sitting in the lotus position and going “ommmmmmm.” to paraphrase william buckley, i stand athwart this and shout, “no!”

    so it is with trepidation that i approach black swan. the trailer and premise look all kinds of enticing but aronofsky has lured and tricked me on more than one occasion.

  • 22 9-03-2010 at 6:53 am

    Sawyer said...

    Ummm, I think Ang Lee, von Trier, Lynch, Cronenberg, Leigh, del Toro, Cuaron and some others might disagree with your top 5.

  • 23 9-03-2010 at 5:25 pm

    Sam said...

    What are the detractors saying? I like Aronofsky a lot but find Portman to be vastly overrated – she’s just so stiff in everything I’ve seen her in and actually detracts from the movies she’s in in my opinion. Perhaps that works in this role though.