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Arts & Culture

'Carol' Does Not Have A Hair Out Of Place

Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) meet unexpectedly at a department store during the holidays in Todd Haynes' film "Carol."
The Weinstein Company
Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) meet unexpectedly at a department store during the holidays in Todd Haynes' film "Carol."

Todd Haynes' film is one of the year's best

Film Review: 'Carol'
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews Todd Haynes' new film "Carol."

If you are looking for the perfect cinematic gift this Christmas, KPBS film critic Beth Accomando suggests unwrapping Carol at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas. Carol opens in a department store during the holidays. CLIP I love Christmas, wrapping presents and all that. Then you somehow manage to end up overcooking the turkey anyway. It’s the perfect setting for the wealthy, about to be divorced Carol to meet Therese, a young shop girl with artistic ambitions. It’s also a perfect opportunity for director Todd Haynes to signal that we’re in a different era, a time when women did not go out without gloves, a hat, and a fur coat. It’s a time when emphasis was placed on appearances both in terms of how one dressed and how one behaved in society. It’s in this repressive world of 1952 America that Haynes explores a growing romance between two women. CLIP Maybe you’d like to come visit me sometime… Carol is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, which gained notoriety for avoiding gay stereotypes and for suggesting that a lesbian romance did not have to end in suicide or denying one’s desires in order to fit in with social norms. Haynes suggests the film is not specifically a gay romance but rather about the “radicality of love,” and what better way to explore that than to look at a taboo relationship in the 1950s. Haynes makes Carol a piece of cinematic perfection – there’s never a hair out of place, a frame wasted, or a moment that’s not meticulously calibrated. He makes a film that so beautifully captures a period that it looks like it was unearthed from a time capsule but then he challenges us by making it pulse with bold, contemporary ideas. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Companion viewing

"All That Heaven Allows" (1955)

"Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" (1988)

"Far From Heaven" (2002)

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If you are looking for the perfect cinematic gift this Christmas, may I suggest unwrapping “Carol” at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas.

Quentin Tarantino isn’t the only filmmaker proving the effectiveness of shooting on film these days. Todd Haynes shot “Carol” on Super 16mm as a means of what he calls “aggressively” reinstating film grain so that his film looks like it was made in the 1950s, the time in which the story is set.

But while Tarantino is all about flamboyant homage that calls attention to him as a filmmaker, Haynes is all about disappearing into a project so that all the audience is aware of is a well-crafted product.

“Carol” pairs up beautifully with Haynes' “Far From Heaven.” Both are ripe melodramas, but “Far From Heaven” specifically pays homage to Douglas Sirk’s tragic technicolor romances and “Carol” is more naturalistic in terms of both visual style and emotions. “Far From Heaven” practically dripped with lush colors but Haynes describes the color palette for his new film as “soft and soiled.” Both films were expertly lensed by Edward Lachman.

“Carol” opens in a department store during the holidays. It’s the perfect setting for the wealthy, about to be divorced Carol (Cate Blanchett) to meet Therese (Rooney Mara), a young shop girl with artistic ambitions.

It’s also a perfect opportunity for Haynes to signal that we’re in a different era, a time when women did not go out without gloves, a hat and a fur coat. It’s a time when emphasis was placed on appearances both in terms of how one dressed and how one behaved in society. It’s in this repressive world of 1952 America that Haynes explores a growing romance between two women.

“Carol” is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt,” which gained notoriety for avoiding gay stereotypes and for suggesting that a lesbian romance did not have to end in suicide or denying one’s desires in order to fit in with social norms. (It was originally published in 1952 under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan.)

Haynes suggests the film is not specifically a gay romance but rather about the “radicality of love,” and what better way to explore that than to look at a taboo relationship in the 1950s. And Haynes loves taboos, he loves exploring them and in the process shattering them.

The performances in "Carol" are flawless.

Blanchett presents Carol as a woman who has tried to be a role model in terms of how she dresses, who she married, and how she conducts herself in public. But she is a woman quietly deciding to rebel and coming up against a society that wants her to conform.

Mara's Therese is like a sponge, soaking up much of what Carol offers in terms of style and new ideas. She is young and impressionable but also with her own growing sense of who she is.

Todd Haynes directing Cate Blanchett in a scene from "Carol."
The Weinstein Company
Todd Haynes directing Cate Blanchett in a scene from "Carol."

The performances are well complemented by all the craftspeople on the film. Haynes employs every department — from costumes and production design to lighting and sound — to create a believable world for his characters to live in. Haynes proves how effective a film can be when care is taken in every craft category. Haynes conveys so much with small details, be it the kind of elegantly matched jewelry Carol wears, or the advertisements we see on the walls, or the choice of words a lawyer uses.

All of these things add up to create a film where nothing happens by accident and everything enriches the storytelling.

It has been exciting to watch Haynes mature as a filmmaker, starting with his super 8 film "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" and progressing through films like "Poison," "Safe," and "Far From Heaven." Although his filmmaking style has grown more refined, his indie guerrilla sensibilities have not changed.

Haynes makes “Carol” (rated R for a scene of nudity/sexuality and brief language) a piece of cinematic perfection — there’s never a hair out of place, a frame wasted, or a moment that’s not meticulously calibrated. He makes a film that so beautifully captures a period that it looks like it was unearthed from a time capsule but then he challenges us by making it pulse with bold, contemporary ideas. Give yourself a present, and go see “Carol” for Christmas.