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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR AND A HALF STARS A wealthy married woman determines to forge a relationship with a young retail assistant.


Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara

Some speak of CAROL and 'masterpiece' in the same breath, and justifiably so. Todd Hayne's hauntingly beautiful character study is a companion piece to his equally memorable period drama, FAR FROM HEAVEN. Again there's a collapsing marriage and again, compromised sexuality, but where the latter examined the woman left behind, CAROL takes the front foot to lead with women in charge.

In the early 1950s, young department store assistant Therese (Rooney Mara - Her) catches the eye of Carol (Cate Blanchett - BLUE JASMINE), an older woman Christmas shopping for her daughter. It's hard to say who seduces whom, both women know what they want and are fairly certain about how to get it. But this is the 1950's, no one throws caution to the wind. From here, narrative takes a back seat as Haynes immerses himself in the texture of the times and the finest detail of their relationship. It's a complicated one, not least because Carol's husband Harj (Kyle Chandler) is not about to loose his wife, and Carol is not about to loose her daughter who becomes a pawn in the couple's tempestuous breakdown.

There is no single element that defines the brilliance of Carol. Here is a film that is greater than the sum of its parts, mostly because of the unyielding excellence of those parts. Set in a grey wintry north, every scene exudes both the hope of a spring to come and the repression of the dreary, cold reality in which they live. Hayne's camera captures that mood in handsome frames that are as sensual as they are melancholic. Not a moment is lost. Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY), Phyllis Nagy's screenplay is evocative and entrancing as she creates a world in which Mara and Blanchett are given the reins to do what they do best. And they do.

For it is the performances of these two women that anchor the story and allow it to resonate through the ages. Whole storylines are revealed with a nod, a smile or a pursing of lips which is given due emphasis by Hayne's unusual framing devices. As their relationship blossoms, so too Harj's pursuit of his wife gets deeper and nastier. For his marriage, he's willing to go a long way. For her daughter, Carol is willing to go further. The result is heart-breaking.

Eschewing victim-hood in its telling or characterisation, CAROL is both a something of a history lesson as well as a riveting love story, albeit one built on a hard, heavy bed of sadness and frustration. CAROL is also classical filmmaking at its very best. It even earned a round of applause from hardened critics and that doesn't happen every day. A masterpiece, some whispered. Justifiably.



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