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Black Swan wows critics at Venice premiere

Black Swan had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last night, and many critics are leaping around in grand jetés of praise:

Todd McCarthy, Indiewire:

As a sensory experience for the eyes and ears, “Black Swan” provides bountiful stimulation. Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique choreograph the camera in beautiful counterpoint to Portman’s dance moves, especially in rehearsals, and the muted color scheme on rather grainy stock look like a more refined version of what the director did on “The Wrestler.” Tchaikovsky’s ever-present music supplies plenty of its own drama and the dance world details seem plausible enough.

Mike Goodridge, Screen International:

Already back on track after Venice Golden Lion winner The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky soars to new heights with Black Swan, an enthralling drama set in the competitive world of ballet. Alternately disturbing and exhilarating, this dark study of a mentally fragile performer derailed by her obsession with perfection is one of the most exciting films to come out of the Hollywood system this year. Indeed it‚Äôs the perfect film to open the autumn season with its gala at Venice tonight, a bold display of cinematic fireworks that will leave audiences breathless…

Black Swan will be warmly received in Venice, Toronto and beyond and it should pirouette all the way to the Oscars next Feb. If the film is ultimately too unsettling to snag main prizes, it has at least one nomination in the bag for lead actress Natalie Portman who gives one of ‚Äúthose‚Äù performances, transforming herself after ten months of training into an accomplished ballerina, almost uncomfortable to watch as she consumes her difficult role…

Portman is captivating as Nina and not just because of her dancing prowess or her lean, emaciated ballerina’s frame. Like Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion or Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, she captures the confusion of a repressed young woman thrown into a world of danger and temptation with frightening veracity.

… It‚Äôs a mesmerising psychological ride that builds to a gloriously theatrical tragic finale as Nina attempts to deliver the perfect performance.

Peter DeBruge, Variety:

A wicked, sexy and ultimately devastating study of a young dancer’s all-consuming ambition, “Black Swan” serves as a fascinating complement to Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” trading the grungy world of a broken-down fighter for the more upscale but no less brutal sphere of professional ballet. Centerstage stands Natalie Portman, whose courageous turn lays bare the myriad insecurities genuinely dedicated performers face when testing their limits, revealing shades of the actress never before seen on film…

In the film’s staggering opening sequence (arresting enough to give skeptical male auds reason to stick around), Nina dreams of herself in “Swan Lake’s” lead role, circled by dark forces. …exaggerated stylistic choices extend to the production design as well, adding yet another motif: Reflective surfaces, mostly mirrors, offer fleeting glimpses of Nina’s other half.

Aronofsky seems to be operating more in the vein of early Roman Polanski or David Cronenberg at his most operatic. Though the director never immerses us as deeply inside Portman’s head as he did Mickey Rourke’s in “The Wrestler,” the latter third of “Black Swan” depicts a highly subjective view of events that calls to mind the psychological disintegration of both “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter is less impressed:

“Swan” is an instant guilty pleasure, a gorgeously shot, visually complex film whose badness is what’s so good about it. You might howl at the sheer audacity of mixing mental illness with the body-fatiguing, mind-numbing rigors of ballet, but its lurid imagery and a hellcat competition between two rival dancers is pretty irresistible. Certain to divide audiences, “Swan” won’t lack for controversy, but will any of this build an audience? Don’t bet against it.

Only Aronofsky suggests, right from an opening dream sequence, that Nina might be cracking up. He keeps the camera close to his heroine, not just so objects and people can suddenly loom next to her as in all horror flicks, but to suggest a certain amount of paranoia and claustrophobia… Aronofsky, working with an original script by Andres Heinz that later was rewritten by Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin, never succeeds in wedding genre elements to the world of ballet. The film takes its cues from “Swan Lake” itself as demons, doubles and death dance in Nina’s head. She can only approach perfection by becoming the dual character she plays — the innocent and the evil.

Portman, who has danced but is no ballerina, does a more than credible job in the big dance numbers and the tough rehearsals that are so essential to the film. In her acting, too, you sense she has bravely ventured out of her comfort zone to play a character slowly losing sight of herself. It’s a bravura performance.

Here’s another link to the splendid trailer, for anyone who missed it a few weeks ago.