D: Todd Haynes DP: Edward Lochman. W: Phyllis Nagy. Starring: Cate Blanchett/Rooney Mara/Sarah Paulson/Kyle Chandler/Jake Lacy/John Magaro. (NOTE: Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel originally titled The Price of Salt)
Every now and then a movie lives up to its hype. The buzz around Todd Haynes new film, Carol, has been strong since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. To most it is certainly, arguably, the film of the year. I would quite agree with my heart also still with Brooklyn.
Set in 1952/1953 New York the film follows Therese (Rooney Mara) who works in a department store as the Christmas holiday approaches. After an encounter at her shop counter with Carol (Cate Blanchett) the two women begin a slow mounting love affair that is set against the dissolution of Carol’s marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler) and a custody battle over their daughter.
Mara’s Therese is all short bangs and blossoming independent womanhood, taking pictures of a world she’s still deciding if she’d like to blend into. Her chemistry with the elegant enchantress that is Blanchett’s Carol is subtle and sustains the film. She, and the audience with her, is caught in the glow of Blanchett’s mesmerizing turn. Blanchett balances the mother and the woman in her performance giving the struggle between societal duty, motherhood, and personal happiness and sexuality such precise sophistication and desperation it will make your heart break. She is seen through Therese’s camera, aware of her own image as much as we are aware of the palpable feeling of falling in love we experience.
Much can be gushed about Carol, but Sandy Powell’s costumes must be mentioned. A three time Oscar winning designer for Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator, and The Young Victoria, Powell elevates the mood and look of the film. From Therese’s pompom striped hat of her youth to the jewelry that jangles from Carol’s wrists above heavily lacquered fingernails, the world is alive in every detail. The look of the early 1950s is given a grainy haze by veteran cinematographer Edward Lachman and Haynes decision to shoot on 16mm. The pair have worked together on all of Haynes’ projects including the Mildred Pierce series for HBO set in a similar time like his film Far From Heaven. Carol is all its own and is given warmth and depth by the 16mm decision and is heightened by a great score from Carter Burwell.
At the core of this film is a lesbian love story, but unsurprisingly its universality still rings true over fifty years after Highsmith’s novel was first published. Yet it is so important that a same sex couple story will get a wide release platform and hopefully awards attention. A flawless film, Carol drops a gauntlet for every other filmmaker to pick up. Go see it the minute you can.