Movie Review: CAROL (USA 2015) Top 10 *****

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carol_posterCAROL (USA 2015) Top 10 *****
Directed by Todd Haynes

Review by Gilbert Seah

CAROL, first screened at Cannes to rave reviews and winner of the TFCA Award for Best Film, is the slow moving pensive subtle new film by helmer Todd Haynes that tells the sad tale of the love affair between two women, a rich wife, Carol Aird (Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett) and a store clerk, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). The film is based on the ahead-of-its-time 1952 novel called “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith.

Therese wants out of her hum drum life. Her job as a store clerk is leading nowhere just like her relationship with her overeager boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy). Her dreams include a career in photography and a more comfortable richer lifestyle with Carol who she meets at her store. Carol is facing problems of her own. Her separated husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler) is denying her daughter’s visitation rights. Harge is using her past lesbian affairs to deem her an unsuitable mother. This is the obstacle. Carol has to choose between her love for Therese and her daughter.

Haynes’ film moves extremely slowly. Not much is conveyed, for example in the first 15 minutes of the film, as the setting and introduction of the characters slowly come into focus. Even the ending is slow as the audience wonders what the final outcome of the relationship will be. But it is still a rewarding drama, all things considered. The set design, wardrobe, props and costumes are almost too perfect – like the departmental store Therese works at and the clothed and jewellery worn by Carol. The look of the film is similar to Haynes’ FAR FROM HEAVEN where the family lives in a gorgeous neighbourhood with perfectly manicured lawns.

Blanchett delivers another Oscar winning performance, the best sequence occurring during the lawyer and husband’s meeting when she is forced to have a final say. Her character is a very intelligent one – one who knows the stakes at hand, the risks involved with her relationship and what she has to do in order to survive. This contrasts with Therese’s character. Therese does to know exactly what she wants regarding her heterosexual relationship, her career and her current romance. It is Therese’s naiveté contrasted against Carol’s planned actions.

For a film about a lesbian relationship, sex scenes are necessary. It is quite uncomfortable to watch Mara and Blanchett having a go at it, in the nude, in bed. After all, this is the actress that played Queen Elizabeth, and winning an Oscar in the process. The sex scenes are long and could be shortened without much damage to the story.

2015 has seen two high calibre lesbian films, CAROL and FREEHELD, both with superb performances, yet both are highly different films with different themes. CAROL is dead serious, but not without humour, and more of the subtle variety.

CAROL is Todd Haynes (FAR FROM HEAVEN, SAFE, VELVET GOLDMINE), still in top form in terms of uncomfortable drama. Just as Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN broke taboos with male stars in a male homosexual drama, Hayne’s CAROL will do the same with the female gender. It is great to see two stars give their all for the craft of cinema.

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