Ever since falling in love with Velvet Goldmine’s glamorous debauchery as an angst ridden teenager, I’ve followed the career of director Todd Haynes with excited interest. As Cate Blanchett said recently “he has the passion, hunger and recklessness of a student filmmaker but the master strokes of an auteur”. An auteur who has frequently been compared with the 1950s melodrama maestro Douglas Sirk. Classic Sirk films like All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956) and Imitation of Life (1959), dealt with the usual domestic themes of repression, family and lust but were always limited to the constraints of the era and famously dismissed as “women’s pictures”. Haynes, clearly influenced by Sirk’s visual flair, with his use of deep reds and tortured mirrored reflections, is able to be far more explicit in 20th and 21st Century film making and is unashamedly so in his own 1950s set melodramas Far From Heaven (2002) and the HBO remake of Mildred Pierce, which was an under watched televisual treat. These were beautifully made romantic dramas with exceptional acting and emotionally complex sexuality, which paved the way towards what may just be the greatest film of the year.
Carol is based on Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical 1952 short story The Price of Salt and adapted into a superbly subtle and intelligent screenplay by Phyllis Nagy. Rooney Mara is Therese Belivet, a doe eyed shop girl and budding photographer who doesn’t know what she wants or what to shoot and can “barely choose what to order for lunch” until she meets Cate Blanchett’s titular Carol, a strikingly alluring, desperately bored and fiercely determined housewife, battling over child custody with Kyle Chandler’s Harge, the husband she is divorcing.
In Carol, Therese finds everything she didn’t know she was looking for through the lens in her camera and the frost covered windows of a cold Manhattan winter. Through two exceptional lead performances, the relationship between Carol and Therese is a careful, tender and honest portrayal of a love which shouldn’t but must be hidden.
This is a film about love for lovers of film. Steeped in nods but not winks to the golden era: from the heartbreaking Brief Encounter opening to the snippet of Wilder’s two fingers to Hollywood in Sunset Boulevard, not to mention the distinctive qualities of Hepburns Audrey and Katherine conjured by Mara and Blanchett. Shot on Super 16mm film, in keeping with the period, it is sumptuous to behold, every detail is so artfully placed and so carefully crafted I wanted to drink it all in like a dry martini, with an olive. With emotions running as high as the leads’ cheekbones, the score by Carter Burwell pulls your heart and stomach dramatically along with you as the characters walk with perfect pace and pitch slowly towards the coda of the final scene.
Carol is the Todd Haynes masterpiece he was born to make. A quietly faultless and thoughtful romantic drama which I have loudly and emphatically fallen in love with.