CAROL. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, and Jake Lacey. Also, Sarah Paulson, Cory Michael Smith, and Carrie Brownstein. Directed by Todd Haynes. Rated M (Mature themes, sex scenes, nudity and coarse language). 118 min.

This British-American romantic drama is based on Patricia Highsmith's semi-autobiographical novella, "The Price of Salt", published under a pseudonym in 1952. The movie has been rated as the best film of 2015 by the Variety Film Critics Poll conducted around the world.

Set in the very early 1950s, Therese Belivet (Roony Mara), an aspiring young photographer, works as a shop assistant in a Manhattan department store. One day, she is approached by a glamorous, well-dressed older woman, Carol Aird (Kate Blanchett), who purchases a train set for her daughter, and walks away. There is an immediate attraction between the two women that Blanchett captures by a provocative backward glance as she departs, after deliberately leaving her gloves on the shop counter.

Carol has a difficult marriage to her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler); they are technically married and living apart. Therese has a complicated relationship to her boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacey) and all is not well between them. Therese posts the gloves back to Carol. Lonely, and grateful for Therese's gesture, Carol invitesTherese to lunch and then back home. At home, the friction between Carol and her husband becomes obvious and Therese leaves. However, under the cover of friendship, the relationship between Carol and Therese grows, and eventually becomes sexual.

Harge uses Carol's affair with Therese to intimidate her and to threaten her with loss of access to her daughter. Carol breaks the relationship to Therese out of fear she will never be able to see her daughter again. Carol then tries to reconnect with Therese after deciding she wants the relationship to continue, but Therese, hurt by Carol's rejection, refuses. The film ends as Carol and Therese make eye contact across the social and moral divide of a crowded room.

The performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in the film are wonderful. They capture the darkness and melancholy of a romantic relationship that dramatically enmeshes them both. Carol has fallen in love with a far younger woman from a different social class, and the difference in socioeconomic status between them defines and shapes the attraction. They are two people from different worlds who have developed a strong attraction to each other, and the sexual scene between them is personally revealing of where the two women choose their relationship to go. It should be noted that the sex scenes are not explicit enough to put the movie into the higher category for M, and they are well away from the intensity of what routinely characterise an R.

Todd Haynes' direction of the movie is powerful, commanding and perfectly in control. He creates brilliantly the atmosphere of the era that is being represented. Much of the attraction between the two women is captured by nuance. The intensity of their attraction is revealed more by how they watch each other and what they don't say, than what they actually say or do. The private, meaningful gesture, the knowing smile, the unspoken thoughts - often out of phase with the spoken word - perfectly fit the rich tableaux that Todd Haynes is building, and this is reinforced by the way in which the cinematography illustrates the social milieu of the day. Haynes makes it clear that Carol's attraction is in part due to the boredom that her life and surroundings have created for her.

This is a controlled and intelligent film, beautifully acted and directed, about forbidden love between two unlikely people, thrown together at a time when, for different reasons, they needed each other. The film is quality viewing, and dramatically lingers in the mind well after the final credits have rolled by.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Transmission Films

Released January 14th., 2015

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