director Todd Haynes
viewed: 01/16/2016 at UA Twin Stonestown, SF, CA
In 2002, Todd Haynes first delved into the 1950’s “women’s picture” in his film Far from Heaven. That film was specifically addressing the period, genre, and style of the films of Douglas Sirk, in particular employing a saturated color palette to mimic the Technicolor richness of Sirk’s films, while tackling storylines like inter-racial and gay relationships, stories that the 1950’s couldn’t have tackled so straightforwardly, if at all.
Though I haven’t seen his 2011 miniseries of Mildred Pierce, I think it’s safe to assume that it was another return to this Cold War homefront, the lurid dramas that masked the period’s restrictive social constraints and set fixed images of what normal American life was meant to be.
Carol is a beautifully realized interpretation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt, a somewhat autobiographical story, published pseudonymously at the time. Though I am a big fan of Highsmith’s work, I haven’t personally read it yet, one of her very few non-crime-related fictions. And Carol is perhaps an interesting companion piece to Far from Heaven, steeped not so deeply in the style of Sirk or genre convention, but very much a period film, gorgeously photographed, and told with great craft.
Cate Blanchett stars as the titular Carol, the lovely, middle-aged woman who becomes the object of interest and affection of Therese (Rooney Mara), a young shop girl and aspiring photographer. Carol is a married woman with a young daughter, on the verge of a divorce, whose husband sees her affair with Therese as an opportunity to condemn Carol on moral grounds in their legal separation.
Haynes doesn’t affect the Technicolor here as in Far from Heaven, rather the color palette seems more like consumer Kodak photography of the time, less saturated, still beautiful if a bit more steely. And he doesn’t invoke the dramatic thrums of the melodrama, but tells the story with earnestness and clarity. It’s excellent work. The period costuming is gorgeous.
Both leads are great. I personally can never take my eyes of Rooney Mara when she’s on screen.