TELLURIDE: ‘Black Swan,’ ‘Biutiful’

Posted by · 10:31 pm · September 5th, 2010

Today was a long one here at Telluride.  Three screenings (which has been my consistency throughout the fest), an interview, transcribing, etc., etc.  The night mercifully brought little that interested me, so I’ve finally found some time to work.

This afternoon started with a screening of one of Guy’s favorite films of the year, “The Illusionist.” I wasn’t as enthusiastic as he was, but I kind of want to hold off on putting my thoughts down while I let it marinate a bit.  It’s not a difficult film or anything, it’s just a visual feast that should be turned over a few times before settling on a view point, I think.

After that it was off to the Venice hit, Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.” Hundreds of people were turned away at the door and this, without a doubt, has been the festival’s hottest ticket.  The Lido can take a bow on that one.  Actually, Aronofsky’s twisted thriller seems the best place to start, so…

“Black Swan” (***1/2)

It must be incredibly difficult to set out to make a film like “Black Swan.” There’s an inherent danger in the material that leaves you at the risk of falling into the precipice of camp, to be frank.  But to do it, you have to just dive in, commit yourself and to hell with the consequences.  You have something to say.

In many ways, it’s the perfect metaphor for the plight of the film’s protagonist, Nina, played with blistering diligence by Natalie Portman.  Nina is a ballerina, but she’s obviously representative of the archetypal self-restraining artist, struggling with the hang-ups and draw-backs of lacking confidence, elevated standards and inner expectations.  For Aronofsky, clearly, an artist is his or her own worst enemy, so it’s no surprise that mirrors dominate the mise-en-scène (perhaps to the point of overkill) while a black and white, yin and yang motif is nurtured throughout.

The film is the perfect marriage of Aronofsky’s past work, containing all of the paranoia of “Pi,” the identity concerns of “Requiem for a Dream,” the sense of inevitability apparent in “The Fountain” and the professional obsession of “The Wrestler.” Portman gives her best performance to date and could well find her way to an Oscar nomination, while Matthew Libatique’s splendid photography also deserves recognition.  It may play too dark to AMPAS types, but I imagine many members will at the very least grasp a powerful theme that relates very much to filmmakers as it does as to painters, musicians and, well, ballerinas.

“Biutiful” (**1/2)

Alejandro González Iñárritu sets out for the first time this year with a film crafted outside of his former partnership with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga.  In many ways, “Biutiful” gorgeously captures some of the most natural performances of the year.  But while it tells a wrenching if touching story of parental duty and noble intentions, it doesn’t feel built for the distance and suffers under the weight of unbridled ideas lacking structure or thematic virtue.

Javier Bardem is Uxbal, though he might as well be Job.  And he is admittedly flawless, giving a performance so subtly pristine that I truly lost myself in the character and forgot the actor.  It’s the kind of offering fellow thespians will surely respect, but I wonder if they will make it through the film in order to give the actor a fair shake this awards season.  Roadside Attractions will certainly be banging the drum on his behalf.

Whether it worked for me or not, I’m happy González Iñárritu made the film he wanted to make.  While introducing tonight’s screening, he said he sought something simpler after the continent-spanning “Babel.” But one gets the feeling he funneled complex ideas into a narrative package that couldn’t quite sustain them, or couldn’t quite make sense of them (nevertheless running some 138 minutes).  I respect the effort, regardless.

→ 18 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

18 responses so far

  • 1 9-05-2010 at 10:39 pm

    Danny King said...

    Any thoughts on the supporting players of “Black Swan”?

  • 2 9-05-2010 at 10:41 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    All fairly disposable. Hershey has some interestingly creepy moments, but this is all Portman’s show.

  • 3 9-05-2010 at 10:43 pm

    M said...

    Yeah as Danny asked, how did Mila do and Vincent?

  • 4 9-05-2010 at 10:47 pm

    Danny King said...

    Fair enough. I had some high hopes for Kunis, but if she is put aside in favor of Portman, that’s fine with me.

    I’m guessing your Hershey references have something to do with that “little girl” line from the trailer. Gives me chills.

  • 5 9-05-2010 at 11:13 pm

    JDH said...


    How is Clint Mansell’s score?

  • 6 9-05-2010 at 11:25 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Overshadowed by Tchaikovsky.

  • 7 9-05-2010 at 11:30 pm

    Nelson said...

    I too saw this movie at Telluride and I loved it, so far the best of the year. I think Natalie Portman deserves the nomination and maybe even the win at the Oscars. The screenplay is excellent, and I also think all the other supporting actors do wonders with what they’re given, most of all Barbara Hershey. I hope this movie gets a major Oscar push

  • 8 9-06-2010 at 12:11 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    glad to see you liked it, interested to see how everything will reflect in your oscar predictions update

  • 9 9-06-2010 at 12:14 am

    Tye-Grr said...

    Happy to see you liked ‘Black Swan’ and Portman. I’ll be first in line at my local theater to see it.

    ‘Biutiful’ seems to be one of those films with a divide, and yours might be the first review that I’ve seen where you didn’t love it or hate it, but respected it while admitting it was indeed flawed. I’m actually all the more interested now. Bardem has been doing great work, and your confirmation makes me even more intrigued.

    Good reviews. When are you going to review ‘The Way Back’ and ‘The Illusionist’? No rush, just curious as I find your reviews to be good reads.

  • 10 9-06-2010 at 1:18 am

    [A] said...

    I knew BLACK SWAN would be good but all this buzz is just making me more and more anxious..

  • 11 9-06-2010 at 4:22 am

    Ryan said...

    @Tye-Grr…he already reviewed “The Way Back”on saturday.

  • 12 9-06-2010 at 4:57 am

    ninja said...

    Natalie`s win would be incredible. The girl can act circles around some overrated actresses and should stop being judged by Star Wars. Everyone`s favorite Blanchett didn`t fare well when spouting Lucas dialog in Indy 4 either, so there you go.

    I`d love to see this or Inception win BP but have a feeling that AMPAS will go with a traditional Oscar bait again (King`s Speech, The Way Back). At least give it to Social Network, than. That movie looks amazing and the story is cool and timely and doesn`t AMPAS value timeliness above all?

  • 13 9-06-2010 at 8:59 am

    Princess of Peace said...

    Biutiful sounds like the type of film that will really divide people. I will almost definitely love it. I like it when not everyone gushes over a film. When too many critics gush I am usually disappointed (I did not like Inception at all).

    Besides Biutiful I am really looking forward to Black Swan, The Way Back, Never Let Me Go, Meek’s Cutoff, 127 Hours, Miral, Blue Valentine, Another Year and The King’s Speech. I am sure I left some out but it looks like this will be a good fall/winter for moviegoing.

  • 14 9-06-2010 at 10:10 am

    m1 said...

    How was Mila Kunis in Black Swan? No one seems to be talking about her.

  • 15 9-06-2010 at 11:54 am

    ninja said...

    Because BS is Natalie`s show. Kunis time will come. She`s getting more and more in demand and, hopefully, big breakout role is around the corner. She`s very talented and stiking.

  • 16 9-06-2010 at 1:53 pm

    JR said...

    Even if Biutiful falters, if Bardem’s performance is as great as you say, I hope it’s not ignored. He is certainly one of the greatest actors working today. IMHO, arguably the most grieveous oversight in Oscar history was failing to nominate Bardem for The Sea Inside. That performance just flattens me.

  • 17 9-07-2010 at 9:38 am

    Fitz said...

    It was always Portman’s show, but I expected Cassel to garner a little more attention, but based on the trailers alone his character seems like a standard roadblock.