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First Cannes Reviews: Todd Haynes’ “Carol”

First Cannes Reviews: Todd Haynes' "Carol"

Todd Haynes’ first film since 2007’s “I’m Not There” premiered at Cannes to rave reviews. Adapted from a 1952 Patricia Highsmith called the “The Price of Salt,” “Carol” follows Cate Blanchett’s secret love affair with a young department store clerk (Rooney Mara). Critics are praising both Blanchett and Mara’s acting, but also the film’s formal elements, including Edward Lachman’s cinematography, Carter Burwell’s score, Sandy Powell’s costume design, and Judy Becker’s production design. Subtle but powerful, “Carol” will tug at the heartstrings and wrap you up in its elegant arms before slowly but surely breaking your heart.

Reviews of “Carol”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Todd Haynes’s Carol is an amour fou which plays out with sanity and generosity: it is a superbly realized companion piece to his 50s Sirkian drama “Far From Heaven” and an overt homage to Lean’s “Brief Encounter.” The film is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” about the love affair between a virginal shopgirl and the beautiful older married woman that she serves in the pre-Christmas rush in a Manhattan department-store: they are played here by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. Just occasionally, along with the classic echoes, “Carol” has the obsessive frisson of Nic Roeg’s “Bad Timing” and – with the flourishing of a revolver – Haynes conjures a fraught kind of Nabokovian despair and futile melodrama.

Tim Grierson, Screen Daily

An exquisite sadness envelops “Carol,” a delicate romantic drama guided and dominated by a wonderfully nuanced performance from Cate Blanchett, who plays the titular 1950s woman facing an anxious crossroads. The first film from director Todd Haynes since 2007’s “I’m Not There,” this love story between Carol and a younger, more impressionable woman (played by Rooney Mara) aches with the quiet longing of both its characters, whose attraction needs to be kept behind closed doors. It’s such stately, evocative, confident filmmaking, the only reservation being that it’s also a bit chilly.

Jordan Hoffman, Mashable

One can’t overstate just how remarkable the mood is in this film. The costumes, furniture, automobiles, music — everything is impeccable, which means far more than just recreating a time. It recreates a spirit of repression against “indecency,” where the phony utopia of post-war America was at its modern apex, just before it entered its death throes. It’s not that these characters are sad because they can’t be themselves, they feel guilty that their behavior is upsetting the system.

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

On a technical level, there’s nothing but praises to be sung. Edward Lachman’s Super 16 cinematography is lyrical and expressive. Carter Burwell’s score swirls with seduction and longing. On the acting front, Blanchett does another supernatural act of transformation, but Mara, in some ways, makes an even stronger impression. Though Therese is the more passive player in the relationship, Mara gives her a graceful self-possession, a quiet confidence, that holds the film’s focus. This really is Therese’s story (which…is so many people’s story) and Mara holds the center beautifully. She and Blanchett strike an ideal balance—their courtship is sexy and sad and alluring, delicately altered to fit each scene.

Justin Chang, Variety

Shooting on Super 16 — and finding, as ever, a precise and idiosyncratic cinematic language that will best convey their story’s meaning — Haynes and his regular D.P., Ed Lachman, achieve a realist look and texture that’s worlds away from the lustrous sheen and pristine Technicolor surfaces of “Far From Heaven.” Absent any need for Sirkian quote marks, the less brightly stylized images in “Carol” more closely resemble those of “Mildred Pierce,” but the palette here seems even more deliberately muted — all dingy greens and nicotine browns, bathed in noirish shadows that seem to provide a cover under which the characters can at last reveal their true selves. Frequently filming his heroines through half-concealed doorways and rain-pelted windows, and employing medium and long shots as well as closeups, Haynes uses these obscuring, distancing visual devices with an unerring sense of thematic purpose, slowly pulling us into a veiled world where scandalous truths are hidden in plain sight, and only a privileged (or cursed) few can see them clearly.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

Haynes, continuing with ace cinematographer Ed Lachman very much in the style they employed on their previous earlier 20th century period pieces, “Far From Heaven” and HBO’s “Mildred Pierce,” favors tight compositions that focus first and foremost on his gorgeous leading ladies. But he also highlight all the details of Judy Becker’s production design and Sandy Powell’s mid-century costumes, which are worn to splendid effect, especially by Blanchett. Dressed up Cincinnatti locations double reasonably, if not entirely satisfactorily, for New York City.

Mike D’Angelo, The Dissolve

From its opening shot — an abstract pattern revealed as a sidewalk grate, from which the camera tilts up to take in midtown Manhattan at night — “Carol” creates a vivid retro look that’s entirely distinct from the Technicolor lushness of “Far From Heaven,” as well as from the drab claustrophobia of Haynes’ “Mildred Pierce” miniseries. (All three projects share the same great cinematographer, Ed Lachman.) This visual style, in concert with Carter Burwell’s plangent score, does much of the emotional heavy lifting, allowing Mara and Blanchett to strategically underplay their characters’ ardor; it’s been a long time since the movies have seen a romantic fuse burn quite this slowly and steadily. And I don’t know whether to credit Haynes, screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, or the actors with the numerous subtle grace notes that prevent “Carol” from coming across like a “problem picture,” even though that’s essentially what it is. There are some impassioned speeches in the film, but they’re far less eloquent than the moment in which Carol, having invited Therese to her house for the first time, hears Harge unexpectedly come in the front door and rushes to put on her shoes. (Both women are otherwise fully dressed and haven’t so much as touched.) That detail alone says 1952 in a way that feels organic rather than ironic.

Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent

The sumptuous costume and production design here recall those of Haynes’ 2002 film, “Far From Heaven,” to which this seems a companion piece. In a sly and subversive fashion, Haynes again lays bare the tensions in a society which refuses to acknowledge “difference” of any sort. Blanchett’s Carol is chafing against the constraints of her role as wife and mom. When she swears (“son of a bitch!”),  that itself seems as if she is breaking a taboo. Expressing her sexual desire for a woman is another way of rebelling against the rigidly conformist world in which she is trapped.

Gregory Ellwood, HitFix

We won’t spoil the turn “Carol” takes from there, but only the combined talents of both Blanchett and Mara can make the film’s powerfully realized finale work. Carol may have a little bit of Jasmine’s pretentiousness from “Blue Jasmine” or Meredith Logue’s privileged charm from “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” but she has an inherent patience those characters lack. Blanchett is at her best when fighting for her daughter and you can already pick out the awards season clips. Mara’s typically cold demeanor helps her here. It’s not because lesbians should be portrayed frigidly— that would be a huge mistake. Instead, it allows her to play Therese’s hidden passion for Carol, a passion festering just beneath the surface. Blanchett may have the showier part, but without Mara’s subtle work here we simply wouldn’t root for the couple to end up together.

Steve Pond, The Wrap

Depicting an era in which same-sex relationships were hidden (for an era in which they’re headed for a likely Supreme Court endorsement), Haynes keeps things quiet and elegant, but with an edge of tension that runs through the early scenes. Blanchett and Mara engage in what might almost be flirting, if flirtation were even an option in polite society. Carol is bold and confident, while Mara’s character Therese is timid to a fault – as she says when things start to go badly, “I should have said no to you, but I never say no.” Initially, we’re not even sure if Therese has any romantic interest in Carol. The movie starts as a finely-wrought examination of how much can be packed into the smallest glance and slightest gesture, with Blanchett and Mara clearly up to the task of conveying a lot by doing a little.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

At times, the leisurely pace makes it difficult to remain invested in the characters’ unsteady romance, but eventually Haynes fleshes out an involving environment that supercedes the slow-burn nature of the plot. Phyllis Nagy’s straightforward screenplay contains the drama to the tight exchanges of its source material, but Haynes benefits just as much from regular director of photography Edward Lachman, who resurrects the shadowy, noir-like shadings of “Far From Heaven” while imbuing the more intimate scenes with a warm palette that enhances the romanticism in play. Carter Burwell’s wondrous score, which swells to a brilliant crescendo in the memorable climax, manages to elaborate on the story’s emotional foundation even when words fail the two leads.

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