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TIFF & Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan

Black Swan captured the attention of fashion fans internationally when word spread that the innovative designer sisters, Laura and Kate Mulleav of Rodarte, were sought after to  design 40 costumes and outfit the entire ballet corps for Black Swan. And Roy Thompson Hall was the perfect setting for the Toronto International Film Festival gala screening Darren Aronofsky‘s  a film based in the clutches of the New York City Ballet corp.

But, let’s get one thing straight: Black Swan is NOT a dance film. It is also not a light film. Black Swan is dripping with malice, sexual provocation and fantastical delusions. This can by and large be attributed to the direction and story-telling talents of Aronofsky and his ability to cast top notch actors.

Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey made up the main cast. All were in attendance for the gala premiere, except Kunis, which is a shame because her performance as Lily, the mysterious and deeply sensual ballet dancer, took her to new plateaus. Kunis can say good-bye to Jackie from That ’70s Show, and hello to more complex roles in her near future.

The success of Black Swan lay on the shoulders of its cast, and they delivered.

Natalie Portman went above and beyond any of her past roles with her portrayal of Nina, the timid, virginal and initially innocent ballet dancer. Potman’s ability to show emotion through her expressions, gestures, and dance was awe-inspiring. Portman also worked tirelessly with Benjamin Millipied, a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet to train for the role.

“Physically, I trained starting a year ahead of time, and then the six months prior to [shooting] the film, went into a sort of hyper-training, where I was doing five hours a day of both ballet and cross-training with swimming,” Portman told reporters at a press conference at the Venice Film Festival

Nina is a technically magnificent dancer, who recently won the role of Swan Queen in the upcoming performance of  Swan Lake, after scorned prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Ryder) is cast aside. Nina is easily manipulated by those around her, and often falls prey to the whims of her over-bearing stage mother (Barbara Hershey) who wants nothing more than to control her and often refers to her as “my sweet girl”.

But Nina is torn between staying the inhibited, sweet girl, on an impossible quest for perfection and loosing herself in her dance to find the sensuality and passion her artistic director, Tomas demands from her.

The unfailing Vincent Cassel takes on the role of Tomas, the sexual predator, with an ease that he somehow fills you with desire, but simultaneously makes you cower from his advances. Which is exactly what Nina feels when she is with him. She yearns to be seductive and passionate in her dancing, but the fear of not being perfect grips her like an unrelenting vice, and ultimately makes her her own worst enemy.

Aronofsky takes us deep into Nina’s psyche, where we begin to question where her paranoias end and reality begins. And then we meet Lily (Kunis), a dancer who is everything Nina is not. Lily is the woman every woman wants to be and the one all men want to tame. She dances without abandon, feeling every movement without thought and soon becomes Nina’s biggest rival, next to herself.

But, the relationship that develops between Nina and Lily is not the rivalry you are expecting. Lily’s sensual free-spirit exasperates Nina’s internal tug-of-war, but also, allows Nina to tune into her more sinister sexual side.

The polarities between the two also draw them together and a  relationship brews that centres on the peculiar, complex and ultimately perverse. It inevitably teeters on the verge of lesbianism and manifests in an erotic sex scene between Portman and Kunis. And this is where Nina’s mental and physical transformation from white swan to black begins to manifest.

Aronofsky is a master at delving into the inner psyches of his characters to unleash the demons lie beneath the surface. In Black Swan he introduces us to a world where passion and desire are currency, and the line between right and wrong is nothing but a blurry mess. Black Swan is a psychological thriller that will have you wondering where reality ends and where delusions begin.

Black Swan is a beautiful film, one that is provocative, dark and an incredible sensual tour de force.

Black Swan will be released in early December.

Thanks must also be given to California Strawberries for their generous gift of Black Swan gala tickets at The Toronto International Film Festival.