Black Swan/ The Fountain Double Pack [DVD] [2006]

Darren Aronofsky
Black SwanFeverish worlds such as espionage and warfare have nothing on the hothouse realm of ballet, as director Darren Aronofsky makes clear in Black Swan, his over-the-top delve into a particularly fraught production of Swan Lake. At the very moment hard-working ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) lands the plum role of the White Swan, her company director (Vincent Cassel) informs her that she'll also play the Black Swan--and while Nina's precise, almost virginal technique will serve her well in the former role, the latter will require a looser, lustier attack. The strain of reaching within herself for these feelings, along with nattering comments from her mother (Barbara Hershey) and the perceived rivalry from a new dancer (Mila Kunis), are enough to make anybody crack… and tracing out the fault lines of Nina's breakdown is right in Aronofsky's wheelhouse. Those cracks are broad indeed, as Nina's psychological instability is telegraphed with blunt-force emphasis in this neurotic roller-coaster ride. The characters are stick figures--literally, in the case of the dancers, but also as single-note stereotypes in the horror show: witchy bad mummy, sexually intimidating male boss, wacko diva (Winona Ryder, as the prima ballerina Nina is replacing). Yet the film does work up some crazed momentum (and undeniably earned its share of critical raves), and the final sequence is one juicy curtain-dropper. A good part of the reason for this is the superbly all-or-nothing performance by Natalie Portman, who packs an enormous amount of ferocity into her small body. Kudos, too, to Tchaikovsky's incredibly durable music, which has meshed well with psychological horror at least since being excerpted for the memorably moody opening credits of the 1931 Dracula, another pirouette through the dark side. --Robert Horton The FountainScience fiction and romance collide in The Fountain, the ambitious third feature from director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), who laboured for four years to complete this epic-sized love story that stretches across centuries and galaxies. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play lovers in each of the film's three settings--16th century Europe and America (Jackman is a Spanish explorer searching for Incan magic), the present day (Jackman is a doctor attempting to cure his dying wife), and the 26th century (Jackman is a space traveller seeking a gateway to the afterlife)-–who struggle mightily to stay united, only to lose each other time and again. Aronofsky may not have chosen the easiest presentation for audiences to absorb his theories on the lasting qualities of life and the transformative powers of death-–the final sequence, in particular, with a bald Jackman floating through space in a bubble, harks back uncomfortably to "head movies" of the late '60s-–but his leads have considerable chemistry (and look terrific to boot), which goes a long way towards securing viewers' hopes for a happy ending. Critical reception for The Fountain has been nothing short of bloodthirsty, with Cannes audiences booing, but there are elements to enjoy here, even if the premise throws one for a loop. Ellen Burstyn (who earned an Oscar nomination for Requiem for a Dream) delivers a typically solid performance as Jackman's boss in the present day sequence, and special effects (most done without the benefit of CGI) are also impressive given the film's low budget (spurred by a mid-production shutdown after original stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett ankled the picture). And science-fiction fans whose tastes run towards the metaphysical (Asimov, Le Guin) will appreciate the attempt to present the genre in a serious light. -- Paul Gaita

Reviews

No reviews
Item Posts
No posts