Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr Viber
Trending On Empire
The Big 2015 Movie Preview
The 50 Best Films Of 2014
Review Of The Year 2014
Roar Power
Jurassic World unleashed on iTunes
Halo 5 Guardians
The Master Chief returns
Empire Blogs
Under The Radar

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Venice 2010: Black Swan

Posted on Thursday September 2, 2010, 09:37 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Venice 2010: Black Swan

The 67th Venice Film Festival got off to a flying start yesterday with Darren Aronofsky's extraordinary Black Swan, a gripping, surreal psychological thriller that rests squarely on the shoulders of its chic young star, Natalie Portman, just as the director's last film, The Wrestler, did on its grizzled veteran, Mickey Rourke. As first sight, it's hard to tell who's going further out there, Aronofsky, with a heady, intoxicating and challenging film that weaves the lush poetry of Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes with the chilling, psychotic surrealism of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, or Portman, whose performance has just sky-rocketed into the year's top five. The public screening yesterday seemed a little dark, with several apparent shock scenes that simply didn't work because the image was too murky (dialogue, too, seemed a bit muffled), so I think I'll need to see this one again if, fingers crossed and no promises, Black Swan comes to the London Film Festival.

The story reminded me heavily of Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher*, in that it's about a woman going mad and letting go; as Nina, Portman is an introverted, perfectionist dancer who lives in a joyless flat with her over-protective mother Erica (Barbara Hershey). Erica was forced into retirement when she fell pregnant with Nina, and this frustrated, disappointed woman seems determined to live her life vicariously through her daughter. Nina, in turn, is obsessed with winning the lead role in new production of Swan Lake from the ballet company's alpha-male director Thomas (Vincent Cassel).

But Thomas is not convinced. To play the Swan Queen, Nina must also play the wild, libidinous Black Queen, whose back-stabbing plot leads to the Swan Queen's suicide. Nina feels too insecure to let go, and as she struggles to loosen up for the part, a new girl, Lily (Mila Kunis), joins the troupe from San Francisco. Rebellious and irresponsible, Lily represents to Nina everything she isn't, to the point where Nina begins to think that Lily is deliberately sabotaging her career. And Nina has seen that happen before – in the background of this already shadowy film is Beth (Winona Ryder), a ballet grande-dame who has been put out to pasture in her early 40s. Nina puts Beth on a pedestal, stealing her make-up when she's not looking, but this idolatry is self-serving: Nina just wants some of Beth's talent/magic to rub off, so she can disappear into the role and create the perfect Swan Queen/Black Swan configuration.

The trailer suggests some magic-realist or even supernatural elements, but, at its core, Black Swan is a very realist film about the mind, how Nina persuades herself of plots and intrigues that may or may not be there, and the film's seething sexual undercurrents will certainly not play well with middle America, where Portman is still America's sweetheart. She really earns her stripes here, looking at times like a young Liz Taylor, especially in the stunning climactic ballet sequences where Matthew Libatique's amazing cinematography becomes another character in the movie.

But, if anything, the film offers yet more proof that Aronofsky is a filmmaker who will, like The Ram, go down fighting; anyone who still doubts his talents, especially those who didn't see much beauty in his over-maligned fantasy epic The Fountain, will see that this is a director who is intent on finding his place in the continuum of modern cinema. At the moment, the film, for me, is still too fresh to filter, but I suspect that once it has settled, and I've stopped wondering why it reminded me of films as diverse as Brian De Palma's Sisters, P&P's Black Narcissus and John Cassavetes' Opening Night, it will reveal itself as a film of great power and longevity.

Coming next: MACHETE!!!!

* In the services of disclosure, I originally wrote The Pianist, because the film's original title is called La Pianiste, and (especially) when in Venice I tend to get translation brainstorms. This is why I once referred to Life Is Beautiful as Life Is Sweet. But that was before the internet police arrived, and I think I got away with it...

Login or register to comment.


1 guypoole
Posted on Thursday September 2, 2010, 10:19
Note: I think you mean 'The Piano Teacher' not 'The Pianist'... (edit quickly to save embarrassment)

Log in below, or register to post comments
Remember Me:


Empire States (444)

Under The Radar (335)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (36)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


A chat with Jury chair Lee Daniels & the results of the 11th Dubai Film Festival
By Nev Pierce

Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
By Nev Pierce

Movies And Medinas: Empire Reports From Marrakech International Film Festival
By Phil de Semlyen

Dubai Film Festival: The unlikely appeal of camel beauty pageants…
By Nev Pierce

Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
By Nev Pierce

The Dubai International Film Festival: Paul Bettany and Russell Crowe turn directors
By Nev Pierce

Night Visions 2014: The Harvest, Let Us Prey and Nuntius
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Marcos Ortiz and In Darkness We Fall
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Pablo Larcuen and Hooked Up
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: The Spanish Contingent
By Owen Williams


Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
" Latest Music And Movies"  ajay94
Read comment

Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
"It's not that long an article, Nev Pierce. It's just our attention spans have got shorter! Really re"  Cookiedough
Read comment

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
"Or don't..."  Owen Williams
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
"Sadece on altı dakika içinde iyi bir görsel hikaye anlatmak önemli beceri ve bel"  skndrdmr
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Opening Gala
"That really amazing."  ommrudraksha
Read comment

2013 IIFF - The Winners
"Hi Simon, Trying to get in touch with you. Hope this works. I enjoyed your piece on Enter t"  matthewpolly
Read comment

Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar
"although its old now :(, of course he was gonna win it :), one of the many idols of why i wanna be a"  SONYA ALALIBO
Read comment

Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
"I think it is pretty clear the story revolves around The Blacksmith, in The Man With The Iron Fists,"  owenyunfat
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Hi Damon With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem a"  ChesterCopperpot
Read comment


Sundance Part Six: In The Loop

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009

Basterds Blog

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines

The Wrestler

Where to see Moon...

Damon Wise (299)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (87)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (21)
Owen Williams (21)
Simon Braund (6)
Nev Pierce (5)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Mani maran (1)
David Parkinson (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)

Empire's Best Horror Films For Halloween
An unlucky thirteen triple-bills

Emily Blunt Talks Sicario
On the five-star thriller, puke acting and taking Tom Cruise to The Box

Denis Villeneuve Talks Sicario
On his cartel thriller and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel

Tomorrowland: The Viewing Guide
Brad Bird talks through his sci-fi adventure, scene by scene

Empire Meets Ridley Scott
The great director on The Martian, Blade Runner 2 and the Prometheus sequels

Life On Mars: Trips To The Red Planet
A dozen of cinema's Martian misadventures

10 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Toys You’ll Want To Own
Falcon quad copter? BB-8 Sphero? We’re already asking for pay raises…

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Empire print magazine

Delivered to your door – with exclusive subscriber only covers each month! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Empire digital magazine

Exclusive and enhanced content – get instant access via your iPad or Android device! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe now and save up to 63%
Print, Digital & Package options available Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire Digital Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  Digital Edition  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)