Once upon a time in Amer­ica

Todd Haynes’s new film surges with sup­pressed emo­tion as he tells the tale of two women in love in the 1950s, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

Cate Blanchett in Carol

CAROL Di­rected by Todd Haynes. Star­ring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chan­dler, Jake Lacy, Richard Cory, Michael Smith. 15A cert, gen release, 118 min The films of Todd Haynes are so richly al­lu­sive and lay­ered they should come with foot­notes. Take the very first scene in his beau­ti­ful, tricky adap­ta­tion of The Price of Salt, Pa­tri­cia High­smith’s early novel con­cern­ing a les­bian ro­mance in 1950s New York city. We open with Carol and Therese, played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, hav­ing what we quickly de­duce to be a fi­nal meal in a fash­ion­able restau­rant. Sud­denly, they are in­ter­rupted by a friend of Therese, the younger woman, and the vale­dic­tory mood is bro­ken. It’s Brief En­counter. Right?

The pic­ture is built upon such bor­row­ings and vari­a­tions. The 16mm im­ages draw ex­plic­itly from the earthy pho­tog­ra­phy of Vi­vian Maier, Saul Leiter and Es­ther Bub­ley. Yes, Carol will be the sub­ject of many fu­ture PhD the­ses, but, cru­cially, it surges with such sup­pressed emo­tion that the whiff of the pop-cul­tural se­nior com­mon room will trou­ble only the most re­sis­tant ob­server.

Fol­low­ing that pro­logue, we flash­back to find Therese work­ing as a sales as­sis­tant in an up­mar­ket depart­ment store. It is Christ­mas and Carol Aird, a wealthy New Jer­sey woman on the brink of di­vorce, is in search of a Christ­mas present for her daugh­ter.

Therese imag­i­na­tively sug­gest a train set. Carol leaves her gloves be­hind. The subse- quent suc­cess of the present and the re­turn of the gloves brings them to the penum­bra of a ro­mance that lights up dur­ing a drive to Chicago.

Mara can­not be faulted. Creep­ing into the edges of a Bo­hemia that was about to boom, Therese comes across as some­one just yearn­ing to have in­ner en­er­gies re­leased.

Blanchett’s turn is more dif­fi­cult to as­sess. At times, her tow­er­ing de­meanour teeters into ter­ri­fy­ing pan­tomime camp: a lit­tle like her re­cent wicked step­mother in Cin­derella. There’s a point to this, of course.

As the film pro­gresses it be­comes clear that she has been forced to erect a cara­pace be­tween the outer world and what she mov­ingly calls “her own grain”. Her even­tual tem­per­ing grants the film’s later sec­tions with­er­ing poignancy.

As far back as Safe in 1995 and on­wards to Far From Heaven and Mil­dred Pierce, Haynes has rev­elled in his own di­vided feel­ings about the com­fort­able Amer­ica – its hypocrisies and its un­de­ni­able at­trac­tions. The me­dian shades are damper and chill­ier than those in Far From Heaven, but, in vir­tu­ally ev­ery shot, Ed­ward Lach­man’s cam­era finds a strik­ing pri­mary colour that speaks of pos­si­bil­i­ties.

A full eight years af­ter I’m Not There, one of Amer­ica’s great film-makers has re­turned in gal­lop­ing tri­umph.

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