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USA 2015
Directed by
Todd Haynes
118 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Synopsis: in early 1950s New York a department store clerk and aspiring photographer Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) develops an intimate relationship with an older woman, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett)

Director Todd Haynes is probably best known for his 2002 Sirkian melodrama Far From Heaven in which Julianne Moore played a well-to-do middle-class 1950s Connecticut housewife whose world comes apart when she discovers that her husband is indulging in homosexual dalliances.  Haynes is back in the same territory with Carol, a story about a well-to-do middle-class 1950s New York housewife whose world comes apart when she indulges in a homosexual  affair with a younger woman.

As this comparison indicates, Haynes is interested in social repression and transgression and this, along with its impeccable visuals is the strength of his film although style tends to be the dominant tone of what is a measured but perhaps too dispassionate film.  Had it been made in the 1950s with, say Joan Crawford and Audrey Hepburn in the leads (an impossible scenario, I know, but one nice to imagine), it would have been provocative and whether good or bad, of interest today. In modern times it looks more like an exercise in retro-style with a frisson of the forbidden. One is not asking it to go as far as Blue Is The Warmest Colour but as a romance it is too detached to make us feel much of its protagonists' attachement to each other, with Haynes keeping the leads largely sequestered in their own private bell-jars of alienation (he tends to be over-fond of shooting them moodily gazing out of windows partly obscured by reflections or mist). Surprisingly the script by Phyllis Nagy was based on a 1952 novel “The Price of Salt” (which was later republished as “Carol”) by Patricia Highsmith, an author best known for her murder mysteries. I have not read it and, once again, perhaps in its day allusion to Sapphic love was enough to set pulses racing but today it all seems a little underwhelming (more heat is generated by the scenes of Carol with her husband, played well by Kyle Chandler) with the sole sex scene rather limply handled.

Blanchett, (who co-starred in Hayne’s 2007 Dylan biopic, I’m Not There) is one of the few actresses today who has old-fashioned studio-era star-power and she is well cast as the poised and elegant older woman although Haynes’ restrained direction leaves her too often simply striking poses for the camera. Equally Mara, with her Hepburnish looks, is well-suited to Haynes' purpose but there is little evident fire between the two women

At the end of the day, Carol is predominantly an exercise in craft, beautifully realized by Haynes with the assistance of his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Edward Lachman and ably abetted by the eloquent production and wardrobe design by Judy Becker and Sandy Powell respectively. It is however more of a cabinet piece than something you’ll find yourself snuggling up on the couch with.   




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