Cannes Review: Todd Haynes’ ‘Carol’ Starring Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara

Cannes Review: Todd Haynes' 'Carol' Starring Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara

Made of crystal and suppressed tears, shot eternally through windows and mirrors and half-closed doors, Todd Haynes‘ "Carol" is a love story that starts at a trickle, swells gradually to a torrent, and finally bursts the banks of your heart. A beautiful film in every way, immaculately made, and featuring two pristine actresses glowing across rooms and tousled bedclothes at each other like beacons of tentative, unspoken hope, the film is based on a novel by "The Talented Mr Ripley" and "Strangers on a Train"’s Patricia Highsmith. But "Carol" is not those stories, nor their filmic adaptations. It is not dark and it is not cutting, instead it is an aching, pining film that layers the simplicity of this love affair with such strata of feeling that the story eventually becomes the essence of every affair ever, gay or straight, in which true, luminous love has been denied by circumstance.

In one of the burning unbroken glances that Haynes favors throughout, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and Therese Bellivet (Rooney Mara) find their eyes meeting across the department store floor where Therese works. Carol, swooping in with an almost predatory air of sexual allure, and the kind of sophistication that would be irresistible to a callow, curious younger woman, leaves her gloves. Therese returns them, and thus a social obligation is established by which they can meet. Therese resists the idea that she is in love with Carol for a time (but seriously, Blanchett, in this form, with those Sandy Powell clothes, her hair and makeup, how could you not be?), while Carol, en route to a divorce from her bewildered, resentful husband Harge, who still wants her back, lavishes gifts and lunches on the dazzled shopgirl. When they finally steal away on a trip together, it transpires that the "against the grain" nature of Carol’s love life could become a bargaining chip in the divorce, which might grant Harge sole custody of her beloved daughter Rindy.

READ MORE: Todd Haynes Is Working On A Limited TV Series About The ’70s ‘Source Family’ Cult

So far, so wildly melodrama-weepie, yet somehow, Haynes’ restraint makes the story feel less hormonal and hysterical than that would suggest, and more timeless and universal. In this he’s abetted by Edward Lachman‘s fantastic compositions, so often putting the people in separate frames within the frame, or shooting those remarkable faces (the film is a symphony of cheekbones) behind windows or other reflective/transparent surfaces. Special note must also go to Carter Burwell‘s wonderful score, to Randall Poster‘s choice soundtrack cuts, and to the moment at which the score and a radio song conflate during one dreamy sequence speeding through a tunnel and the result is peculiar and sublime.

This is, of course, not Haynes’ first foray in the mid-century-set period drama  his last project, the HBO miniseries "Mildred Pierce," also fits that bill. But the parallels are actually closer with Haynes’ great homage to Sirkian melodrama, "Far From Heaven," easily a complementary film to "Carol" in its portrayal of a woman stifled by 1950s mores, trapped in a marriage made a lie by homosexuality, who seeks out a potentially ruinous affair with a lover society cannot sanction. As much as we adore "Far From Heaven," there is an archness to it that "Carol" feels like it has moved beyond, as though having experimented with that format, Haynes has taken similar material, and with help from Phyllis Nagy‘s excellent, understated script, drained it of even the hint of lurid excess or heightened pitch. And so, "Carol" is transgressive because it is not formally transgressive at all. Instead, it is the most sumptuous, classical star cross’d lovers romance  a "Juliet and Juliet" story  in which the central love affair is presented just as legitimately as those that dotted the Hollywood films of the Golden Era (films whose narratives French film theorist Raymond Bellour memorably likened to machines designed to produce heterosexual couples).

But if Haynes is referring less directly to Sirk and Wyler here, his love of the films of that era slips through in other ways, both overt ("Sunset Boulevard" plays within the film at one point) and inferred, like how Blanchett gets a truly Greta Garbo moment with a phone receiver, or how an insensitively timed interruption by an old friend is played exactly like a similar moment from "Brief Encounter." Haynes has co-opted the language of heterosexual Hollywood wholesale, set it in service of a nominally gay story, and the result is swooningly romantic, whatever your sexual orientation.

There is a lot more going on in "Carol" than the love story, or rather the love story is not only about its two exothermic participants. Kyle Chandler, as Carol’s husband Harge, is remarkably solid in an unforgiving role, and Sarah Paulson as Abby, the childhood friend and Carol’s ex-lover, again makes us wonder just why it is that we only ever see her in supporting turns. But you cannot take this film away from its two leads, who beneath the sparse dialogue seem to be ever communicating in a language of looks and gestures and sideways glances, a secret lovers’ morse code blinking out between them like the light at the end of Daisy’s pier. Mara is the revelation, investing Therese with a very gentle witchiness that makes Carol’s description of her as "flung out of space" all the more appropriate: she is a little bit of an alien. Blanchett is stunning, going from a magnificent creature of secret smiles and sly winks, to a less lustered, ground-down version in a subtle but heartrending evocation of a woman trying to suppress her most vital instincts. Like a person with whom you’ve fallen instantly and hopelessly in love, "Carol" shimmers and bewitches until it feels that you, like Therese at a crucial moment, could be walking toward it, entranced and lovelorn, forever. [A]

Check out the rest of our coverage from the 2015 Cannes Film Festival by clicking here.

This Article is related to: Reviews and tagged , , , , , , ,



I really liked this review, but I find it extremely unlikely that more than one historian has ever called anything "machines for the creation of the heterosexual couple." This seems singular enough that the actual person who said it should probably have been quoted.


This is a lovely review (loved the use of the world exothermic!). But it’s not really "nominally gay". There would be no story if this were not a homosexual love story. We see the universal and bond with it, but don’t lose the specificity–that would perpetuate the heartbreaks people still endure for this kind of love. We have to keep hold of both, simultaneously. Even Carol understands her position ultimately to be a political one by default.


I’m dying to see this film!


Wonderful lovingly written review, the writer as effusive in her praise here as she was with her lovely ‘Blue is the warmest colour’ review from two years ago. Women eh?


Film sounds amazing. But the many run-on sentences like this "The supporting roles, especially Kyle Chandler as Carol’s husband Harge is remarkably solid in an unforgiving role, and Sarah Paulson as Abby, the childhood friend and ex-lover of Carol’s again makes us wonder just why it is that we only ever see Sarah Paulson in supporting roles" (which is just grammatically incorrect) show the disadvantages of racing to review something after it premieres at a festival. There’s a lot of interesting analysis here, but it really needed/needs an edit…

Pingback: Homepage

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *