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NYFF Review: Love is a Many Splendored, Splintered Thing for Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in ‘Carol’

Thelma Adams, Film Editor, September 29, 2015

Carol is a sinfully rich romance in which most – but not all – the action occurs on the gorgeous faces (or refracts in the subtle glances) of leads Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The notion that true love is a physical, emotional and spiritual bond between two individuals (whatever their sex) forms the powerful theme of a film that glistens from every pore.

(The movie will have its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 9th and 10th and then open theatrically on November 20th.)

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 cult classic, The Price of Salt, artfully adapted by Phyllis Nagy and masterfully directed by Todd Haynes, it traces the uneasy love affair between a hard-working Manhattan shop girl, Therese (Mara), and wealthy New Jersey housewife Carol (Blanchett) in the early 1950’s.

The path of love never ran smooth. And so, there are the impediments of Carol’s irate husband (a ruddy Kyle Chandler straight jacketed into a suit of rich respectability), her doll-like daughter, Therese’ potential fiancé – and the soul-crushing weight of a repressive ‘fifties society that censures the love between two people that happen to be women.

Haynes’ shimmering movie may recall his Oscar-nominated Far From Heaven in theme but that movie aspired to a humid Douglas Sirk sensibility. Here, Haynes maintains his controlled visual style while absorbing Highsmith’s sympathetic and psychological tone. This is a story that strives for emotional honesty in harmony with surface beauty. All the cinematic elements harmonize: Sandy Powell’s exquisite costumes, Carter Burwell’s gorgeous yet never manipulative score, Edward Lachman’s cinematography, and Judy Becker’s production design.

And all the creatives support an acting duet between Mara and Blanchett that spans a tentative lip twitch to a passionate embrace. The joy of the movie is watching these two women, whether they are separated by the wooden counter of the department store where Therese sells toys, or a bathrobe in Chicago’s Drake Hotel. Haynes and Highsmith are trying to plumb the truth between what they say and what they feel – the gestures they can’t hide, the joy in finding love that illuminates their features.

Which actress is more superb? There’s no contest. They both excel. Perhaps Mara shines brighter because we have become accustomed to Blanchett’s glow and this is, to me, a breakout for the younger star dreadfully miscast in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The early murmuring about who will get a nomination in the category of lead actress or supporting is a question for studio executives to decide. Cannes named Mara Best Actress last spring, and Blanchett may also be nominated in lead for Truth. The larger issue reflects back on the film’s subject matter. If this were a heterosexual love story, then both actors would be equally nominated in their respective gender categories – and they would not be competing against each other.

But it is not a heterosexual love story. Carol is a sumptuous, soulful story of two very different, very lonely women. Standing on the precipice of forbidden love in the 1950’s, their leap resonates today as both unique and universal.



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