Four Degrees of Seperation

Black Swan.  A beautiful psychological and psychotic soufflé of nightmarish paranoia and obsession, and undoubtedly the best film of the past year. It was a breath of cold, fresh air that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and prickle with tension – a welcome departure from Saw 26 or whatever number it was. In light of Aronofsky’s masterful melodrama, here are four films that appear to have influenced its production.

1. Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)

Polanski’s classic tale of psychological meltdown and demonic fear really helped, for one of the first times, to mold depictions of mental torture with physical manifestations in what would become an increasingly corporal European aesthetic. Catherine Deneauve’s increasingly brittle Carole is channeled into Swan’s Nina, as is the claustrophobic camerawork and oppressive mise-en-scene.

2. Carmen (Saura, 1983)

The performance, oh the performance. Carlos Saura’s beautiful flamenco retelling of the Carmen myth is hypnotic, mesmeric and enchanting at its lowest point; transcendental and holy moment-heaven at its highest. Black Swan‘s ballet scenes certainly have elements of this, as well as showing the increasingly indistinguishable line between reality and fiction.

3. Mulholland Drive (Lynch, 2001)

The relationship of Nina and Lily in Black Swan clearly has antecedents in that of Betty/Diane and Rita in Lynch’s mind-bending movie – questions of lust, desire, rivalry and truth are all common to both. Additionally, the question of reality/fiction once more comes to the fore, and from what better place to source such themes than David Lynch, the master of brain-melting, cerebral spinning cinema.

4. The Wrestler (Aronofsky, 2008)

Perhaps cheating a little bit here, because a director’s previous work can often be found throughout his/her films – but the correlation between Aronofsky’s most recent two works is particularly informative. The Wrestler is a film about performance, about obsession, about self-harm and ultimately, about martyrdom. Be it Randy the Ram in the world of pro-wrestling, or Nina in the realm of ballet, the outcome is the same – Aronofsky’s characters destroy themselves in the no-holds barred, unbridled, fanatical pursuit (and eventual realisation) of their dream; ironically, having lived through the nightmare.


Carmen (Aranda, 2003)

Carmen (2003)

Vicente Aranda

15

119mins

* out of 5

Since landing the title role in Julio Medem’s breathtaking Lucía y el sexo/Sex and Lucia (2001), Paz Vega’s name seems to have become a byword for explicit nudity. After said intoxicating turn, a performance that subsequently earned her a Goya Award for Best New Actress, she has made film after film in which she gratuitously loses her clothes. Vicente Aranda’s take on the myth of Carmen provides no exception.

It is the latest in a long line of films to tackle the enigma and legend of the Gypsy seductress – a symbol of Spanish femininity, in spite of the fact that she hails from Eastern Europe by way of Egypt. Based on the famous 1847 novella by Prosper Mérimée about a fiery siren who enchants, corrupts and ultimately destroys a young inexperienced soldier, this torpid retelling lacks the basic passion and gusto that the tale is famed for. There is a distinct lack of chemistry between Vega and Leonardo Sbaraglia, who plays the solider José and both leads appear to be reading from different scripts. Whereas Vega amps up the sexuality to the point of exhaustion, pouting and heaving as if giving her best Marilyn Monroe caricature impression (and then some…), Sbaraglia barely registers either side of flaccid blandness  – whether losing his virginity or killing a man, he has the look of a more serious and constipated Joseph Fiennes, which is in retrospect no mean feat.

Visually the film garners some positives – the production values are high and certainly recreate the feeling and appearance of the early 19th century; with the costume department deserving particular applause. Yet this is surely the very least we should expect from a film clearly aimed at an international audience, and equally, from a director such as Aranda. The themes of eroticism, betrayal and obsession are synonymous with the legendary Spaniard, as his sultry 1991 classic Amantes attests. Yet with Carmen he unfortunately strikes a bum note. The film fails to grip or enthrall at all; as a man retells his catastrophic downfall at the hands of a temptress, I hardly cared – preferring instead to mentally cast as yet unmade adaptations of some of my favourite books, whilst simultaneously counting down the arduous minutes until those glorious (and hopefully more interesting) credits would finally roll. (Javier Bardem would play Pablo Escobar in the Michael Mann directed Killing Pablo, for example.)

In the end however, it appears that by faithfully reinforcing the myth of Carmen in an attempt to sell both it and clichés of Spain, abroad, Aranda has missed the opportunity to create something innovative, a-la Jean-Luc Godard (Prénom Carmen), Carlos Saura (Carmen) and Imanol Uribe (Días contados). The fact that Saura’s fabulous flamenco feast has more fervour and feeling in one flick of a señorita’s skirt than Aranda’s version manages in its entirety, really does say it all.