IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 118 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the early 1950s, shopgirl and aspiring photographer Therese Belivet is working in the toy department of a department store in Manhattan during the Christmas season. She is approached by an older woman, Carol Aird, who purchases a model train set for her daughter as a gift on Therese’s recommendation. Carol accidentally leaves her gloves on the counter, and Therese mails them to her home in New Jersey. Carol is going through a difficult divorce with her neglectful husband, Harge, and is struggling to maintain custody of their young daughter, Rindy. Out of loneliness and gratitude for Therese’s kind act of returning her gloves, Carol invites her to lunch, and the two develop a friendship which slowly but surely becomes something more….
Though probably destined to be pigeonholed as a ‘lesbian movie’, Carol could be the most unashamedly romantic movie of the year, a film that depicts the act of falling in love in such a lovely and convincing way that I feel, even if the idea of women loving women doesn’t really appeal, it should still be enjoyed on some level by those of a romantic bent. I found Carol to be a very touching watch and, as in all the best love stories, ached for its central couple to be together despite the odds which they faced. Based on a novel which was initially published by Patricia Highsmith in 1952 under a pseudonym because its two main protagonists weren’t punished for their actions, it’s the perfect film for director Todd Haynes, allowing him to return to the 50’s setting he evoked so well in Far From Heaven while also letting him indulge in his gay and outsider themes he’s interested in. Here he’s achieved a great melding of content and style; the script is intelligent, letting the viewer, for example, sympathise with Carol’s sometimes villainous but tortured husband, and taking its time to reveal details about Carol, but the whole thing also looks gorgeous throughout, Edward Lachman’s amazing cinematography combining with the glorious production design of Judy Becker, and clever art direction of Jesse Rosenthal to great effect, which as well as providing great aesthetic pleasure often comments on the story and the situations and moods of its characters, like the lingering shots of Carol and Therese staring through rainy or murky streaked windows, reinforcing their outsider status.
There’s a delicious dreamy look and feel to some of the film, which almost resembles a Wong Kar Wai picture at times, and yet it also comes across as very real, Cate Blanchett and Mara Rooney [both of whom have never been better] capturing exactly what it’s like to be both nervous and excited whilst falling in love with their extremely sensitive performances; even during their sex scene [it’s so nice to watch a modern film where the couple doesn’t jump into bed until three quarters of the film has passed] they brilliantly convey their character’s emotions, yet Carol is also a film of great subtlety for much of the time, with a glance or a gesture often having to convey what words cannot in a time where such love was not really spoken of, let alone tolerated. Towards the end, the story seems to be building up some dramatic stuff that only partly occurs, while Carter Burwell’s score, which carries a distinct Phillip Glass influence in one of its themes, is a bit too cold, but overall I was astounded how much I enjoyed Carol. It’s a beautiful, uplifting experience that anybody who’s fallen in love should be able to relate to.