BEFORE the cameras even started rolling, Natalie Portman spent 10 months at the barre and lost 20 pounds to play a prima ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s much-anticipated Black Swan.
With a Golden Globe for Best Actress already secured and the hype machine on turbo, the film’s reputation precedes it, but can a film about ballet really be that interesting?
Artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) axes his former protege Beth (Winona Ryder) in favour of the technically superb Nina for a new staging of Swan Lake.
Nina dances flawlessly, but her obsession with perfection strangles her ability to dance with emotion and when sensual ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis) is cast as her understudy, Nina feels threatened.
As she struggles to connect with her dual role as the white and black swans, she descends into paranoia which is not helped by the suffocating presence of her mother (Barbara Hershey).
As Nina teeters on the brink of a breakdown, the line between reality and fantasy blurs.
It’s no coincidence that the only flash of colour in the film is pink and limited to Nina’s bedroom- a nod, no doubt, to her childlike fragility.
The rest of the film is pitched in darkness and shadow, with winding corridors and claustrophic dressing rooms that capture the muted mood before the storm.
Bleeding toes, bulging ribs and burning ribbons personify the ballet world in all their graphic glory, but the gruesome distortion comes in the multitude of mirrors and shredding of skin.
Where the film falls flat is surprising: Ryder’s storyline is somewhat forgettable as the fallen star driven to madness and the tension between Cassel and Portman is lazily developed, though if you’re looking for steam look no further than that scene between Kunis and Portman.
Sequences from Swan Lake are superbly choreographed and danced mainly by Portman herself, but for anyone who though ballet went hand in hand with beauty will get a shock - the only beauty here is twisted with an all-consuming obsession for perfection.