Issue: 2016-03-24, PHOTO: The Weinstein Company
Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Cate Blanchett in a scene from Carol
“Carol is a declaration of love for another film era, but from a thoroughly modern perspective.” Of the near unanimously admiring reviews for Todd Hayne’s gorgeous period drama, this one from Spanish movie blogger Alberto Abuin, perfectly sums the film.
Shot with a limited palette on grainy 16 mm with sets, clothing and props redolent of an Edward Hopper painting, Carol is an exquisite piece of cinematography. Just watching Cate Blanchett release a slow plume from her perfectly painted red lips was almost enough to make this lifetime non-smoker want to take up the habit.
Indeed, as Tim Robey, film critic for Britain’s Telegraph chain, observed: “Everything in this long-gestating adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel feels weighted to perfection. The film (is) a smorgasbord of edible Fifties design, which finds meaning in the smallest details.”
Such authenticity is all the more remarkable given that Haynes managed to shoot Carol for just under $12 million over 34 days. But then there is much that is noteworthy about the film, starting with the novel on which it is based.
Highsmith, a prolific writer, known for her psychological thrillers (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train) published The Price of Salt under a pseudonym because even though she was a known lesbian, she was also intensely private and uneasy with the semi-autobiographical nature of the book. It was Highsmith’s only major work that didn’t contain a murder. But her biographer, Joan Schenkar, noted that the language is stained with violent metaphors. “There’s always a bit of blood at the corner of a smile, if you smoke a cigarette, it’s going to take a bit of the skin off your lips.”
The “crime” in The Price of Salt, which was reissued under Highsmith’s name as Carol, just a few years before her death in 1996, is requited lesbian love. The story, which unfolds languidly, through looks and subtleties, is about an affair between a young woman who works in a New York department store (Rooney Mara) and a wealthy socialite and mother (Blanchett). The film is set in the 1950’s, an era of sexual repression and feminine oppression.
Both actresses were Oscar-nominees for their roles in Carol, as was the picture itself. Although the film was shut out at the 2016 Academy Awards, it has been on more than 130 Top Ten lists and earlier this month was voted the best LGBT title of all time by the British Film Institute, a charitable organization that promotes and preserves filmmaking and television in the United Kingdom.
The screen version of Carol was written by Phyllis Nagy a researcher who left the New York Times in the late 80’s to focus on playwriting. She was offered the script after Highsmith’s death and accepted it primarily because she knew the novelist.
But Hollywood wasn’t interested in a mainstream lesbian movie and the screenplay lay for close to 20 years. It’s a fascinating, yet depressing, note on social mores that the biggest challenge to eventually getting Carol produced wasn’t its same-sex subject matter but the fact that it featured two female leads. Gay may be the new black in cinematic circles but female performers still lack acceptance in much the same way as the LGBT community did when Highsmith’s novel was published.
Yukon Queer Film Alliance has six films on the program for its OUT North festival, which runs April 15 – 17 at the Beringia Centre. For complete information and trailers for OUT North, go to yukonqueerfilmalliance.com.