If for some reason you haven’t checked out “Carol” yet, you are truly missing out on an exquisite piece of cinema, and one of the finest films in a year that hasn’t lacked for them. All the superlatives you’ve heard to describe this stunning adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “The Price of Salt” — “aching,” “swooning,” “masterful” — are all indeed applicable, and as undeniably true as the two raw, unvarnished lead performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara that serve as the movie’s focus. The film is the third entry in a sort of unofficial trilogy from director Todd Haynes about womanhood and identity in mid-century America (the other two being 2002’s wonderful “Far from Heaven” and the under-seen HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce”), though “Carol” is also much more than that: Devastating and dazzling in equal measure, Hayne’s tender, whispery chamber play is also a penetrating look at desire and repression, one that sees the crippling fraudulence at the heart of the American dream.
While many of the film’s admirers are quick to point out what a fine character study it is, it should also be noted that Haynes’ film is a similarly peerless example of moviemaking craft and intricate world-building. Among other things, “Carol” is an intoxicating time capsule back to an era where you could smoke indoors, when songs like The Clovers‘ rollicking “One Mint Julep” were all over the radio, and when potentially ruinous secrets were held and harvested in the well-kept corners of middle-class suburban homes across America. Suffice to say, on pretty much every level, a lot of work has gone into making “Carol” as great as it is, and now — as a sort of early Christmas present to cinephiles everywhere — we have a whole mess of interviews with the minds behind this incredible film, so that we may learn of the painstaking well of research, effort and inspiration that went into its creation.
The in-depth conversation with Haynes is particularly fascinating: Subdued and yet fiercely intelligent, the director discusses his earliest inspirations for the story, his working relationship with leading lady Blanchett and the classic ’50s melodramas that have informed the look of his latest film. There’s also a terrific behind-the-scenes featurette courtesy of The Weinstein Company, as well as some more thoughtful and revealing talks with the director and stars. These glimpses into the film’s making should prove to be essential for fans of the film, and a fine way to reacquaint oneself with this sparkling, intimate gem of a movie before the year in cinema comes to a proper close.
“Carol” is currently playing in a limited release, and is set to expand to more theaters after Christmas and New Year’s Day.