Not every American melodrama set in the fifties is comparable to Douglas Sirk but Carol certainly is. It’s not a Sirk homage in the way of Far From Heaven but the Americana (e.g., the toy shop where Carol works), suburban prisons and socially unacceptable romance are at the heart of Carol. Very Sirkian (if that’s the term) cinematography as well with the vibrant colours and recurring shots of entrapment. Staring out of rainy windows may be a film cliché but here it doesn’t feel clunky.
For those of you who are looking for a story, Carol has a pretty thin narrative; shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara) falls in love with mysterious customer Carol (Cate Blanchett) but will it work out, particularly with the interference of Carol’s husband Harge (Kyle Chandler)? It may look like a style-over-substance film but the style and the atmosphere really is the substance.
With the Oscar nominations released today, I’ll throw in my thoughts re: Carol and the two big nominations. Blanchett is very good but not unexpectedly so and not to the degree of her Oscar-winning performance in The Aviator. I wouldn’t begrudge her the Oscar but won’t be too indignant if she didn’t win. Mara has the harder role in that her character is very quiet and thus most of her acting is done through looks. She is very sweet and her gamine features are reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn. Notably good in notably bad Side Effects, if this season isn’t her time for an Oscar, I can envisage one in the future. The snub of Best Picture and Best Director is likely due to the thin narrative and no pin-pointable ‘worthiness’, being mainly about one romance. I enjoyed the fact that it eschewed political commentary; director Todd Haynes doesn’t skirt around the social stigma of lesbianism in the fifties but he doesn’t get on his soapbox and shout at the injustice of it all, though there are moments where I had to stop myself shouting at the screen.
Recommended for Sirk fans, Blanchett fans and those who like to soak up the atmosphere and visual details of a film. The narrative may not be detailed but the acting and the aesthetics certainly are.