‘Carol’: A manicured melodrama (IANS Review, Rating: ***1/2)

Film: “Carol”; Director: Todd Haynes; Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy and Sarah Paulson; Rating: ***1/2

Set in the early 1950s and adapted from the 1952 novel by Patricia Highsmith, “Carol” is a story of two women; Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a young girl who is unsure of herself — working in a departmental store but desires to be a photographer — and Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a stylish older socialite who is on the verge of divorcing her husband Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler).

Directed by Todd Haynes, the film is a manicured melodrama that traces the two women’s friendship that gradually, inescapably, develops into a passionate romance. It brings to the fore a love affair born out of instinct, affinity and instantaneous connection.

While the story was revolutionary when it was written, its film adaptation, in the present scenario, is less ground-breaking. Nevertheless, it is an engaging drama that is well-mounted. In the initial scenes, with Christmas as the setting, the carols are effectively used as the background score. The visuals not only capture the moment, but also set a momentum for a languid paced narration to unfold.

While the story is of forbidden love, what engages you is how the story is being told rather than the relationships between characters or the exact details of what is happening onscreen, in terms of the plot.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are the main attractions in the film. Hushed by the orthodox culture that swamps them, they deliver an excellent performance, when they express themselves in unspoken terms. With hesitation, in their eyes and body language, they bring out the fragility of their relationship.

They are aptly supported by; Kyle Chandler who plays Carol’s still-in-love, hurt husband, Sarah Paulson who plays Abby – Carol’s childhood friend and one-time lover, Jake Lacy as Richard – Therese’s boyfriend and Cory Michael Smith playing Tommy the detective. They shine within their limited screen space.

On the technical front, Edward Lachman’s cinematography with minute detailing in the sepia tone frames recreate the period to perfection. Haynes and Lachman use careful framing and blocking techniques to visually communicate not only the mutual feeling of alienation and vulnerability among the film’s characters, but also the yearning experienced by them too.

The one frame that stands out in this case, is the one taken from the cab — with nearly eighty percent of the screen darkened and with only the left bottom corner capturing the visual from across the street, it is marvellous.

What helps the visuals to excel is Judy Becker’s production designs coupled with Sandy Powell’s elegantly beautiful costumes and Carter Burwell’s moving score.

Overall, “Carol” is an unapologetic, slightly mischievous, visually rich, arthouse drama that may have a crossover appeal.

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