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Black Swan ****

Is it worth $10? Yes

Filmmaking as an art form has in many ways become, for lack of a better expression, a lost art. At a time when box office and escapist thrills dominate the film industry, “Black Swan” reminds us of what a beautiful aesthetic expression of creativity great filmmaking can be.

What this means is that on top of the great performances from Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel, and the sure-handed direction of Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”), “Black Swan” is a technical masterpiece: The cinematography by Matthew Libatique uses mirrors, framing, lighting and character placement better than any movie this year, and Therese DePrez’s production design is full of black, white and varying shades of gray, which perfectly echoes the main character’s inner dilemma. If you don’t immediately recognize these technical elements, that’s okay. The point is that all of these techniques have the ability to subconsciously enhance what’s on the surface, and in this case, make you question what’s there as well.

Nina Sayers (Portman) is a veteran of a prominent New York City ballet company and strives to be perfect in her every move. She’s equal parts surprised and petrified when Company Director Thomas LeRoy (Cassel) announces she’s to be the lead in “Swan Lake,” and her mother (Barbara Hershey) is thrilled to see her little girl’s dream come true. But there’s one catch: Nina is perfect for the serene White Swan, but she also has to dance the darker, more seductive role of the Black Swan, and letting go of her inhibitions to dance the Black Swan is difficult.

But with the help of Thomas and a new dancer in the company, the free-spirited Lily (Kunis), Nina is slowly able to let go and have fun, but she also begins to blur the line between reality and fantasy. Critics of the movie have been flustered by the lack of clarity regarding what is and is not real, but the script by Andres Heinz, Mary Heyman and John McLaughlin is vague for a reason: It doesn’t matter what’s real or not, all that matters is following Nina on the gradual dissolution of her mind.

Black Swan

Portman is so good that she’s a sure-fire Oscar nominee: Note the way Nina’s fragile psyche is always there, even in her moments of empowerment, and the way she’s too afraid to achieve something she desperately wants. By the end it’s hard not to be mesmerized by Portman’s performance, Aronofsky’s direction, which never tips its hand between reality and fantasy, and Tchaikovsky’s beautiful “Swan Lake” music, which is hauntingly used.

If you’ve ever been interested in how great movies are made, “Black Swan” is the perfect film to study. And if you’re not interested it’ll be just another run-of-the-mill great movie, rare as they are.

Did you know?
Portman trained for more than a year in order for the ballet scenes to look authentic. In the final six months prior to shooting, she trained for 5-8 hours a day.

Black Swan

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