Love story for modern morals

The Hollywood awards season is in full swing and culminates on February 29 (NZ time) with the Oscars, or Academy Awards.

Cate Blanchett in a scene from the movie Carol.

Cate Blanchett in a scene from the movie Carol.

A few years ago the category for best film was doubled to 10, but only eight nominations have been made this year.
Increasingly, these films have reflected sophisticated dramas released late in the year so they are top of mind for the many judges with short memories.
It doesn’t hurt at the box office either to have new films receiving awards.
This year, only one film released in the first half of the year was nominated: Mad Max: Fury Road. NewZealand filmgoers have already had a chance to judge all of this year’s selection, with only Room to come.
One that surprisingly missed out is Carol (Transmission Films), based on a contemporary love story by crime writer Patricia Highsmith.
The Price of Salt was published in 1952 under a pseudonym, Claire Morgan, because it didn’t have a murder.
The content would have been controversial in any case and director Todd Haynes’ treatment (and Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay) are entirely appropriate for the period.
Like Brooklyn, which does have an Oscar nomination as best film, Carol treats the 1950s as a time of strict social propriety as well as prosperity in America.
Haynes is noted for his other films of this period, echoing the look and fashions of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas such as Written on the Wind.
This was best demonstrated in Far From Heaven (2002) and more recently in the lush five-part TV version of James Cain’s novel Mildred Pierce, starring Kate Winslet.
For Carol, Haynes cast Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in the leading roles. Yes, this is a love story between two women.
One (Blanchett) is a sophisticated woman of both means and fashion taste. The other is young department store worker from a Czech migrant family and with an interest in becoming a professional photographer.
Their relationship is told circuitously amid the glamour of Manhattan but limited by the social pressures and restrictions.
Their meetings are often surreptitious and heavy with dialogue.
The older woman’s motives are not entirely clear to the younger one at first, although the audience is wiser from a backstory involving the Blanchett character’s best friend (Sarah Paulson).
Because of Haynes’ approach, moral judgments are difficult and certainly cannot be compared with modern-day attitudes.
The younger woman is at a power disadvantage and is struggling with her own emotions, as her boyfriend (Jake Lacy) pressures her towards marriage and a trip to Europe.
But she is not helpless either about her aspirations or choices, and makes the significant step in progressing the relationship. And, of course, it is the older woman who stands to lose most from exposure.
This is because she is engaged in a divorce and fierce custody battle for her daughter and is forced to play the role of dutiful housewife, as well as undergo counselling.
Blanchet and Mara have been Oscar nominated for the best leading and supporting actress roles respectively. A shared reward would be a good outcome for their outstanding performances.
Rating: Mature audiences (sex scenes and offensive language); 118 minutes.

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Nevil Gibson

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