By Bob Bloom
“Carol” is a stylish, elegant feature, a throwback to the women’s dramas that studios would churn out in the 1940s and ’50s.
It is no surprise, then, to note that the movie, adapted from the novel “The Price of Salt,” by Patricia Highsmith (author of “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) was directed by Todd Haynes, whose earlier films include “Far From Heaven,” which like “Carol,” is set in the repressive and button-downed 1950s.
The movie is a love story, a romance between an older and a younger woman, portrayed, respectively, by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
Blanchett is Carol Aird, a wife and mother, who is unhappy and dissatisfied with her life. Her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), is an executive and heavy drinker, who expects his wife to abide by society’s precepts, which means she takes care of the house and their daughter and puts her needs second to his.
Mara is the quiet and reserved Therese Belivet, who works at a department store, yet has artistic leanings, with a strong passion for photography.
The two first lock eyes when Carol is Christmas shopping at the store and asks Therese for advice on a gift for her daughter. It’s obvious from the outset that an attraction and connection have been immediately struck.
Carol purposely leaves her gloves on the counter, and Therese, having her address in the suburbs from a shipping slip, mails them to her.
Thus starts a slow dance, as the two circle each other, before finally taking off together for a trip to Chicago.
It’s not the story so much that is striking as Haynes’ re-creation of the era. And it is not just in costumes and sets; it’s the way he uses his camera to capture knowing glances, furtive looks, gestures and silences that speak volumes.
Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation uses language that reflects Haynes’ design — lush and graceful. What carries the movie are the pauses and inflections, rather than the words themselves.
Blanchett and Mara provide beautifully restrained performances. They know they are violating social mores, but their desires and needs outweigh the risks and possible consequences.
Haynes is at his best reminding us about a socially straitjacketed period when breaking the rules could lead to exile from what used to be called “polite society.”
He also excels at showing how the power of love and desire erases class and sexual boundaries.
The supporting cast easily complements the two leads, especially Chandler as the estranged husband who is totally deaf and blind to his wife’s emotional state. He sees it as a passing phase, instead of the statement of independence she craves.
With the exception of one sequence, “Carol” could have been filmed in the 1950s with Deborah Kerr in the Blanchett role and Audrey Hepburn in Mara’s part.
The film is circumspect and discreet, which perfectly fits its time frame.
“Carol,” which features a sophisticated yet simple score by Carter Burwell, is a wonderful and delicate experience. Romantic and real, it is a film you can embrace and cherish.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
4 stars out of 4
(R), sexual content, nudity, language