Here’s look­ing at you

CAROL, ro­man­tic drama, rated R, Vi­o­let Crown, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Molly Boyle

Cate Blanchett may have the most mes­mer­iz­ing eyes in cin­ema to­day. She’s been lauded for her chameleon-like per­for­mances since she turned heads in El­iz­a­beth (1998), but it’s her gaze that stays with you from role to role. Laser-like in its in­ten­sity, by turns all know­ing, sly, and elu­sive, Blanchett’s slight­est glance holds au­di­ences in thrall to her ev­ery emo­tion.

She has am­ple op­por­tu­nity to de­ploy this fea­ture in Carol, di­rec­tor Todd Haynes’ sec­ond 1950s-era melo­drama, af­ter the Dou­glas Sirk-in­flu­enced

Far From Heaven, in which Ju­lianne Moore played a sub­ur­ban house­wife with a clos­eted gay hus­band. This time — in a story adapted from a 1952 novel by Pa­tri­cia High­smith, which she pub­lished un­der a pseu­do­nym due to its les­bian plot­line — it’s glam­orous New Jer­sey house­wife Carol Aird (Blanchett) who’s gay and nudg­ing the closet door open. She’s go­ing through a dif­fi­cult sep­a­ra­tion and di­vorce from her hus­band Harge (Kyle Chan­dler) dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son when she meets Therese Be­livet (Rooney Mara), an in­génue work­ing the counter at a New York City depart­ment store.

The alchemy be­tween Therese and Carol is in­stant, and glo­ri­ous to be­hold as the film cen­ters on the re­mark­able per­for­mances of th­ese two ac­tresses. Ev­ery move­ment be­tween them is mea­sured, locked and loaded, and Mara gives Blanchett’s gaze a for­mi­da­ble coun­ter­part with her own stricken, doe-like stare.

Be­witched by each other, tip­toe­ing around con­sum­mat­ing their at­trac­tion, Therese and Carol em­bark on a Christ­mas-week road trip west­ward. They’re leav­ing be­hind Carol’s dif­fi­cult child-cus­tody bat­tle with the in­tractable Harge, who doesn’t understand or ac­cept Carol’s predilec­tions. As they drive through the heart­land, the tension (sex­ual and plot-driven) mounts, as High­smith’s thriller-writer pac­ing yields in­trigu­ing twists.

As Carol says, “Ev­ery­thing comes full cir­cle,” and Carol and Therese, as in any epic ro­mance, get their res­o­lu­tion in time. Ev­ery dis­parate el­e­ment of the film adds to its vir­tu­os­ity — from Blanchett’s Hitch­cock­blond chic to the trans­portive score, from the shel­ter­ing im­men­sity of the 1949 Packard the two share to the crewel cur­tains in their ho­tel room. But just as with Brief En­counter (1945), an­other cin­e­matic valen­tine to chance meet­ings, the movie’s grav­i­tas truly rests on that first ex­changed glance — and the elec­tric cur­rent that passes be­tween two strangers when they glimpse each other across a crowded room.

Be­witched, both­ered, and be­wil­dered: Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett

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