Carol is more than just a pretty picture. Between its woozy emotional headspace, incredible central performances and Haynes’s eerie ability to frame a pivotal emotional crossroad, it feels like the first film of the year truly capable of marauding Hollywood’s impending awards season.
THE last time Cate Blanchett and director Todd Haynes collaborated was 2007’s problematic Dylan hagiography I’m Not There. After years in development purgatory – Cork director John Crowley was linked to it at one stage – Carol arrives with both major awards buzz as well as a better return from the Haynes-Blanchett partnership.
But there is a third part to this sublime adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt. It is Rooney Mara (The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), who pulls off that very rare feat of matching Blanchett’s acting muscle blow for blow.
It helps that the material on offer is as meaty as it is. In a lush 1950s Manhattan, Mara plays Therese, a sheepish department store clerk who one day encounters the titular Carol, Blanchett’s leonine society lady. Carol initially gives off the appearance of a happily married mother of one but a chemistry between the two sucks them both helplessly into a passionate and consuming love affair.
Much in the background is against them; Carol’s sham marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler) and how the divorce courts will consider her behaviour in terms of custody for their daughter; Therese’s own disgruntled and ultimately discarded beau; old-fashioned social norms that, in one sense, facilitated two women spending much time together in public yet looked on homosexuality as a disorder.
Blanchett and Mara are mesmeric. Both invoke the ghosts of Katherine and Audrey Hepburn, respectively, and it will be intriguing to see who emerges with the statuettes next Spring. Haynes, meanwhile, shoots in grainy Super 16 which give the Hopperesque backdrops a dreamy quality. Windows are peered through during risky conversations and the focal point of a restaurant floor could be an intimate meeting in a far corner. Prepare to swoon in new ways at one of this year’s most beautiful and sensual love stories.
First published in the Sunday Independent