Forget everything you thought you knew about the glamour of the world of ballet. Black Swan casts it all aside.

This Oscar contender shows us that ballet is damn hard work, with very little glamour going for it. Beyond the billowy white tutus, it’s a nasty, brutal scene, replete with intense competition, jealousy and rivalry.

At least, that’s the impression that I came away from Black Swan with. Darren Aronofsky’s latest film venture stars Natalie Portman as a driven member of the corps de ballet, her even more driven and domineering mother Erica, an ex-dancer herself played by Barbara Hershey, and French actor Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy, the artistic director of a New York ballet company.

Thomas tells his company at the outset of the film that the production of Swan Lake that he is mounting is going to be different. Although it’s been “done to death” in his words, his version will be “stripped-down and visceral”.

There are two driving forces in the ballet Swan Lake, the White Swan and her evil counterpart, the Black Swan.

Thomas’ production incorporates the same dancer for both roles, leaving corps member Nina Sayers, played by Portman, a huge goal to aspire to.

Besides dealing with her controlling mother, Nina must also contend with Thomas, who tries to convince her that although she has the White Swan role down pat, the only way she can achieve the passion and fire of the Black Swan is by bedding him.

Portman’s role is irritating to watch. She is either whining to get a role that is clearly out of her depth, or whining when she perceives that fellow corps member Lily, played by Ukrainian newcomer Mila Kunis, is trying to steal the role from her.

The sanitized eroticism of ballet is part of the water they all swim in, but that doesn’t make its hypocrisy any less annoying. What’s also annoying is the film’s inability or unwillingness to deal with sexuality head on.

When Nina starts to descend into a state where she can’t trust her own sanity, her repressed sexuality takes on the aspect of something dark and threatening, and ultimately something she must be punished for.

From that standpoint, Black Swan is a very American movie, full of moralizing and guilting.

Critically acclaimed at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, Black Swan is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Editing and Cinematography, Best Direction for Darren Aronofsky, fresh from his previous success with The Wrestler, as well as Best Actress for Portman.

Black Swan plays at 7:15 and 9:30 pm at the Qwanlin Cinema, and is rated 14A for sexually suggestive scenes and violence.

A final note: Landmark Cinemas, the chain that operates our local cinemas, has recently screened Barney’s Version, the critically acclaimed film adaptation of Canadian writer Mordecai Richler’s bestselling novel, at its cinema in Kelowna.

Local management says that it is not currently scheduled to play here. If you’d like to see Barney’s Version play in Whitehorse, send an e-mail to Landmark’s booker at their Calgary head office: knorman@landmarkcinemas.ca