(Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
Aronofsky's facility with the cinematic medium is thrilling. Stunning, even. From the grungy low-budget intensity of Pi through the hyperactive visual, sensual and emotional overload of Requiem for a Dream, and from The Fountain's stately fantasy-worlds to the Wrestler's Dardennes-aping realism and long takes, he seems capable of almost anything with a camera. He has a fine eye and a great feel for the rhythm of a scene, he seems gifted with actors (just ask Mickey Rourke or Ellen Burstyn), uses music and visual effects quite well, and appears to be comfortable in many different genres.
But I think that as an artist he has absolutely nothing to say.
His films frequently look magnificent, they entertain, move and involve to different degrees; but I don't see the defined worldview or style of an artist. Instead I see a really classy, motivated and extremely intelligent journeyman director. It doesn't surprise me that his next film will be the Superhero blockbuster sequel The Wolverine. Indeed I can see him doing a superb job with it, since it will require a technically adroit but somewhat superficial approach.
Black Swan, then, is a beautifully directed, deliriously camp and overwrought art house drama, with traces of the thriller and horror genres in its DNA. It recalls the Roman Polanski of the late 1960s in subject matter, as it traces Nathalie Portman's ballerina as a role drives her inexorably towards madness. Aronofsky plays with sound and vision to disorientate the audience - plenty of flash cuts and images glimpsed in the corner of a moving frame alongside ambient noise and creepy sound affects - even while his story remains a primarily realist ballet drama for much of it's first two acts.
The last act is an emotional escalation as all becomes hysterical (in both senses) and an almost parodic element of grand guignol is introduced.
Like all of Aronofsky's films, it appears to be about how people destroy and hurt themselves, but it's investigation of this issue is never more than skin deep despite the sound and fury it creates.
Still, it is gripping, funny, frightening, sexy, often visually exceptional and always entertaining. Portman is superb.