Down the Swanny
Not sure why the BAFTA and Oscar nominations are pouring in; this is a poor movie. Not because it doesn’t show a realistic portrayal of the world of ballet or the life of a dancer (I suspect that US fighter pilots rolled their eyes copiously when they watched ‘Top Gun’) but because the whole premise is ludicrous. A professional ballerina of unclear rank called Nina (Natalie Portman) is chosen to dance the Swan Queen for a major New York ballet company and consequently goes stark, staring bonkers. Darcey Bussell is clearly made of sterner stuff than we could possibly have imagined after being plucked out of the corps for instant stardom by Kenneth MacMillan at the tender age of 19 and not killing anyone. That we know of.
Of course, it’s not a film about ballet, it’s just set in a ballet company. It’s a coming of age story about the emotional repression and sexual awakening of a young girl, a subject that director Darren Aronofsky has treated with all the delicacy of a wrestler executing a body slam. To begin with Nina is a perfectly nice, professionally successful girl with an oppressive mother who just needs to get out more. Then, horror of horrors, she discovers the joy of masturbation and before you know it she’s off down the boozer getting drunk, taking drugs, having lesbian flings, seeing nasty visions and within days she’s killed herself. There’s some decidedly Victorian morals at loose here; even blindness is not punishment enough. Perhaps a chastity belt might have helped.
Still, there were some good things in the movie. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis make pretty convincing bunheads, there’s some clever and unsettling editing where faces are transposed so the viewer is not always sure who they’re looking at, the rippling tattoo on Kunis’ back that looked like a bird flying was enticing and if the lesbian sex scene between Portman and Kunis doesn’t get straight men interested in ballet then nothing will.
By the end I was desperately hoping that Nina wasn’t going to turn into a swan when, can you believe it! she turns into a swan. She dies, just like Odile, having achieved what she perceives as perfection and therefore a release. But at least Odile took the leap with someone who loved her for what she was, poor Nina leaves as alone as when she first arrived. Equally peculiar is the fact that the music (and there’s plenty of it) doesn’t really impact; in the final scene it just comes across as pure melodrama.
Ah well, ‘The Red Shoes’ stays top of the pecking order for ballet movies.