*the fifth of six very short reviews, in an attempt to catch up on 2015 film journalism before the 2016 movie season really kicks in*
It is a rare thing for a truly excellent film to call no attention to itself- but when it does happen, it is normally one of the film's defining characteristics. This is the case with Carol: a masterclass film from the masterful director/writer duo of Todd Haynes and Phyllis Nagy; based on a book written by the author of Strangers On a Train.
The movie floats, ethereal and effortlessly, above the marketed audience pleasers that dominate the mainstream film industry. Carol is wholly concerned with evolving the romance between two elaborate women as artfully as possible- all else fades behind its exquisite existence.
This singular goal is accomplished through a few prominent means: careful development of Therese and Carol as their own separate people, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara fully inhabiting these women, and an evocative visual style.
Perhaps the reason Therese and Carol's romance comes across so genuinely is because Haynes takes the time to give us a sufficient emotional background for each partner. The narrative of the book is responsible for the characters and their stories- and why certain parts of their respective personal lives make the risks of their relationship so devastating- but Haynes and cinematographer Edward Lachman deserve endless credit for framing this story within such memorable visuals.
The cinematography hearkens back to the heights of classical filmmaking: at times I felt like I was watching an Orson Welles film. The photography and setting design are celestial and full of subtle visual metaphors. There's an entrancing dichotomy between the strength of the women pictured and the delicacy of the cinematography: just like Therese and Carol's romance, it seems that one false step would break the whole beautiful thing.
Blanchett and Mara walk this line exceedingly well with performances full of grace and intentionality. At no point does either actress appear to be acting; both women suffuse the characters even as they change.
Carol's only flaws are minor and technical: an overly ambitious camera movement during its closing shot, perhaps- the first act's pacing definitely could've been faster to really grip our attention. But when every other facet is so artful, and the underlying message concerning the unfortunate persecution of homosexual women is so strong, Carol still floats far above many of the year's other films.