Toronto: Taking a twirl with Black Swan

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Toronto has my head spinning. Already, things were bound to be different—the whole festival has moved several neighborhoods south, to the Entertainment District. We have new screening rooms, different hotels, strange restaurants. It's all fun. Adding to the confusion, in yesterday's attempt to catch up with some Cannes titles, I found my good-taste radar wildly off: Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialism is a sometimes beautiful, largely mystifying piece of dreck (deliberately shown sans subtitles, its contempt for the audience is laughable), while the Javier Bardem-starring Biutiful can only be praised as slightly superior to the director's previous slice of hand-wringing, Babel. But I'm swinging around again with Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, a ballet psychodrama of grand silliness (that's high praise), swaddled in the stylish impact of the director's Requiem for a Dream. Consider me wide awake. Early comparisons to the lush The Red Shoes were off; this is more akin to brooding NYC fantasias like The Hunger or American Psycho or Rosemary's Baby. Yes, we're situated in a recognizable Lincoln Center, but the real terrain is the stage, the dressing room and Natalie Portman's girlish pink bedroom with the stuffed animals. That's where she gets it on with Mila Kunis. Or does she? More on this after the jump. Knew you'd be clicking through. Essentially a pomo version of Swan Lake (complete with other swans and Vincent Cassel as a lascivious director), Black Swan is mainly an explosion of delayed sexual maturity. It's what happens when a stage girl rebels against her mom and starts clubbing and drugging. Portman has always had a brittleness that's kept me at an arm's length from her porcelain perfection. Here, she uses that iciness as a way to gain our sympathy. (Her self-reinvention may be, in a way, just as significant as the one Aronofsky did with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. ) Nina, Portman's character, seems too delicate to take the subway; you worry about her. But take the subway she does, along with seizing a darkness in the movie's final act that's breathtaking, sprouting wings and flinging herself around like one of the X-Men mutants (art-school division). Nina will resonate for a lot of New Yorkers—she's a wonderful invention, as is Kunis's earthier Lilly, two fully believable, anorexically thin ballet girls with NYC attitude and cigarettes. Their bedroom romp, perhaps a fantasy, is a mirror image of vanity. It's not exactly hot, but it works. It should be emphasized that only four years ago, Aronosky was pretty much written off as a pretentious gasbag with The Fountain. Now, he's become an emotional director of actors. To see him regaining some of his former stylish edge is a wonder. Though Black Swan will not be at the New York Film Festival for some reason, you'll be able to see it in theaters come early December.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival


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