This one I recommend.

This one I recommend.

A moving and well-shot tale.

A moving and well-shot tale.

Director Todd Haynes definitely enjoys his period pieces and it’s not hard to deduce which time in history is his favorite. With Carol, he seems to have perfected his craft when it comes to replicating 1950’s Planet Earth and shooting it beautifully, but this isn’t the only thing to appreciate about the film.

The meeting that started it all.

The meeting that started it all.

Set in Manhattan and for some reason shot on 16 mm film, Carol tells of a young department store clerk and hobbyist photographer named Therese (Rooney Mara). On a fairly normal day in the year 1952, she encounters a customer named Carol (Cate Blanchett) who accidentally leaves her gloves behind in the shop. Therese makes it so that she gets them back, and this small gesture turns out to be the beginning of something quite special.

Both these women are troubled and in their own ways unhappy. Therese doesn’t seem entirely comfortable around her boyfriend (Jake Lacy of The Office fame) and Carol is going through a divorce with her husband (Kyle Chandler), which will potentially end with her losing custody of their child. Carol and Therese start seeing each other and start to grow more and more fond of one another, eventually realizing that the connection they’ve found is something far deeper than a normal friendship; something that, for reasons I need not elaborate, needs to remain a secret.

Part of me keeps wishing that we could have a movie where the leading couple is lesbian without anyone within the Universe of the film batting an eye. But a lot what makes the romance in this movie so intriguing and exciting is knowing just what would happen if the secret of Therese and Carol’s “blasphemous” relationship was to get out, partially given the time period in which the film is set but especially given the time when the source material was published. The Prince of Salt by Patricia Highsmith came out the same year that the film takes place, and is part of the reason that Carol is a deal more historically significant than your average “lesbians share forbidden love” movie.

rooney carolYet nonetheless, there are in fact a few separate scenes that give me what I was talking about earlier, where the lesbianism is indeed displayed as something completely normal and not that big a deal. I’m for instance thinking of a scene where Therese is casually conversing with her friend (Sarah Paulson), as the latter speaks of this one “Rita Hayworth-looking redhead” she’s got her sights set on.

To talk some more about the film’s time period, I’d say the production design replicates the 1950’s look quite well, both in terms of props and sets. The costume design courtesy of Sandy Powell also evokes the era flawlessly, and makes our heroines look absolutely stunning to boot. The very same costume designer made Blanchett look similarly glamorous in last year’s Cinderella, a film that’s not as good but at least equally pretty. The score is also magnificent, often reminding me of Philip GlassIllusionist theme.

All of these things are up for Oscar nominations this year and they’re all worthy noms (but I do think the Academy might let Morricone win Best Score for The Hateful Eight), as is Cate Blanchett herself. Although I don’t know why the equally splendid Rooney Mara is nominated for “Best Supporting Actress” when her role in this movie is at least as important as that of Blanchett. Is it because you can’t nominate a film in one category twice? Probably not since films like Amadeus received two “Best Actor” nominations way back when. Is the “there can be only one” rule a concept invented in more recent years or is it different when women do it? Probably the former, to be fair, but you can never be too sure with the Oscars.

In spite of being potentially important to future generations, and past ones, Carol does have a share of drawbacks. There were a select few characters that felt like tired archetypes and the occasional scene came off to me as needless padding. The film is a good 120 minutes long and I don’t know that every second of it is required to tell this story in an efficient and powerful way. In the end, I may not have loved Carol so much as I respect and admire it.

In either case, Carol is quite excellent. It is a well-made and artistic film that will surely mean to lesbian women what Brokeback Mountain meant to gay men (in that I assume they liked it and found it groundbreaking; I haven’t asked). I’ll give it a strong 4.5/5, but its Swedish release was last year so consider it a posthumous addition to my Best of 2015 list as opposed to a future component of my 2016 list.

4.5/5 whatever

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