I’ve been swooning over Carol ***** since Cannes and I’d love to say stuff now I haven’t been saying since May. All the adjectives have since been on the poster. Mere words are not enough.
And that’s how the film is. It’s more about what’s not said than what is spoken. Not that the dialogue in Phyliss Nagy’s script isn’t great. It’s got lines like: “Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, you run out of cigarettes.” And: “Marry him? Oh I barely even know what to order for lunch…”
But this story unfolds in the creases of frocks, the angle of a hat and the smudges of lipstick, in the curlicues of smoke and the winks of flirtation and the brushes of a hand on shoulder. For all the brilliance of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, you could take the humans out of this picture and it would still work – the costumes, production design, music and atmosphere move on their own.
Director Todd Haynes has been doing that kind of thing conceptually since his debut Superstar: Karen Carpenter Story was told with Barbie and Ken Dolls (rarely seen, it’s currently just about viewable on YouTube.
Still, add Cate Blanchett to the mix and you have a potent cocktail, a lunchtime martini of a movie. Todd told me this week that he didn’t feel there was any of Cate’s Blue Jasmine character in Carol, but I have to disagree, and the decision to sit on this movie for a couple of years has been a smart one. It has allowed Blanchett to mature in audience’s minds, to take on her own iconography as a grande dame, and that really helps the part of Carol, a woman who prowls, who is even referred to as “cruel”.
She preys on Rooney Mara’s shopgirl Therese Bellivet, purrs that she’s “a strange girl, flung out of space”, teases her about her Christmas hat the store make all employees wear so they look more like something flung out of Elf.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with Carol, not a hair out of place, not a false note in the score nor a bad song choice, nor an anachronism or a clunk in the dialogue. It is about surface perfection and what lies beneath. You have to see behind the images, which are heavily influenced by the street photography of the era, the Saul Leiter snaps (there’s a great exhibition of his work to compliment the film now on at Somerset House – or the more recently discovered treasures of Vivian Maier.
As such, some may be frustrated at the slow-burn, the smoulder of Carol. But that would be to utterly deny the film’s heady magic, to resist its hypnosis. There are guns, girls, cars; there is sex, drama, humour and thrills – the joy of Carol is finding all this locked inside.
Don’t forget our brilliant competition to win a soundtrack to Carol. Click here to enter.