TIFF SPECIAL: Black Swan review

Story and illustration by Ayalah Hutchins.

After months of hearing about Rodarte‘s foray into costume design, this week the anticipation became reality as I excitedly watched the design house’s tutus in motion in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

This psychological thriller stars Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, a professional dancer at a New York City ballet company, whose life is completely consumed by her career. Every night, she returns home alone, where she lives with her overly protective mother (Barbara Hershey), and leads a sheltered, isolated life, seemingly frozen in childhood.

When principal dancer Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) unexpectedly retires from the company, artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) looks for a new dancer to star as the Swan Queen in his raw interpretation of Swan Lake. Desperate for the role, Nina is faced with a challenge.
Innocent and inexperienced, she is able to personify Odette, the White Swan character perfectly. But despite her strong technique, she has difficulty embodying Odile, the seductive and manipulative Black Swan. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis).

A new dancer to the company, Lily may not have Nina’s perfect technique, but she has style to spare. She’s laid-back, sensual, and seemingly a natural in the ballet’s dual performance role. In order to defeat Lily and achieve her ultimate goal—perfection—Nina is forced to discover her own dark side.

Like any Aronofsky movie, Black Swan is disturbing, sexual, and a tiny bit gory. Visually, the film is very strong. The black swan’s avant-garde makeup—with wings painted around each eye—gives new definition to the term “statement beauty.”

A fresh perspective was also taken on the tutu of the black swan. Her dark tutu curves up at the back, as would the tail of a swan, to reveal a tuft of white feathers (see illustration). A second piece worth mentioning is more classic: The stunning floor-length white gown with sequin detailing that Nina wears to a gala. The diminutive ballerina becomes a statuesque star—if,  at that point, only in appearance.

Other than those two standouts, the costumes are understated, primarily colourless in black, white and grey, creating a sombre feel. This was an effective decision, allowing the acting, as opposed to the outfits, to take centre stage.

If you’re curious to see Black Swan solely because of the Mulleavy sisters’ wardrobe, I would recommend just viewing some stills online. If you are a fan of the director, you will love it. And if you have yet to see any Darren Aronofsky films, what are you waiting for? Black Swan is scheduled to be released in December, which gives you a few months to catch up on his great body of work.

Check out the official trailer for Black Swan here!

Want more TIFF 2010? Read Leanne Delap’s first TIFF column, and check out our picks for the fest’s hottest parties. Torontoist’s complete coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is all right here.

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