Cecile Pin reviews Todd Hayne’s romantic drama
After having seen Carol twice, I can say it is probably my favourite film of 2015.
It is a bit hard to explain the film’s appeal. The plot, after all, does not seem particularly fascinating: it is set in 1950s New York, and deals with a young saleswoman (Therese, portrayed by Rooney Mara) falling in love with an older and married woman (Carol, played by a captivating Cate Blanchett). No more and no less. However, it is also the simplicity of the story that makes everything in it so notable. With no overcomplicated storyline or explosive plot twist, the viewer is totally immersed in the other cinematic aspects of the film.
Todd Haynes’s direction is definitely a standout. A particular scene comes to mind: Therese and Carol are on a road trip together, and we feel part of it thanks to the way it is directed. The way Blanchett is filmed, giving us close-ups of some of her features such as her hands, and heightening our sense of her mannerisms, like her soothing voice, makes us feel as if we have entered Therese’s point of view: we understand her infatuation with this enigmatic, slightly older woman. The scene, and the whole film actually, make evocative use of lighting. Since it takes place around Christmas time, the film is full of snowy scenes and bright lights, contrasting with the warm interiors of the many hotels Carol and Therese stay in during their road trip.
The stunning soundtrack by Carter Burwell frames the whole of the film, helping guide our emotions: it is never overwhelmingly sad and melancholic, but does give us a sense of emotional tension to reflect Carol’s slight aloofness, and the predicament of two women falling in love in the 1950s. Burwell explains that he tried to “keep the music true to this emotional distance, while still conveying the yearning and passion of the characters“.
When it comes to acting, Cate Blanchett is definitely the highlight of the film and perfectly cast. Even the way she walks, and blinks, gives her character a warm, yet mysterious and detached air, which encapsulates how alluring she is for Therese. Rooney Mara also shines as the younger lover (although her constant pout did get slightly annoying after a while). She portrays her as a young woman not sure of what she wants out of life, and who finds comfort in such an independent woman as Carol.
At the LFF press conference, Cate Blanchett said the film was about “finding the timeless nature, the eternal side of falling in love”. I agree with her words: the film doesn’t explicitly draw attention to the negative aspects of being lesbians in 1950s New York, such as being socially frowned-upon (although it does, naturally, still play a role in the story). Rather, it focuses on the love story between Therese and Carol, and reminds us that falling in love really is timeless and universal.
Featured image credit: Telegraph/Cannes