All I need is a lake and a few swans to think of “Swan Lake”, and therefore to think of this film that I enjoyed so much in 2010: “Black Swan”. “Black Swan” is a horrifying little gem directed by Darren Aronovsky, which unexpectedly takes place in the world of classical dance, around the famous ballet by Piotr Tchaikovsky.

For those who don’t know, “Swan Lake” tells the tragic story of the beautiful and good Princess Odette, victim of the spell of the wizard Rothbart. Transformed into a white swan, she only takes on a human appearance at night. It is during one night that she meets Prince Siegfried, who is forced to choose a wife by his parents. Odette and Siegfried obviously fall in love around the lake formed by the tears of the parents of the young girls who disappeared and were transformed into swans. Only a love marriage would break the spell cast by Rothbart and free Odette.

The day after this extraordinary encounter, a ball allows Siegfried’s suitors to present themselves. Rothbart appears there with his daughter Odile, all dressed in black, who happens to be the perfect lookalike of Odette. Deceived by the resemblance, Siegfried declares his love for Odile – but just as the wedding is about to be celebrated, Odette appears.

Realizing his mistake, Siegfried runs towards the swan lake.

The tour de force of “Swan Lake” lies in the fact that the roles of Odette and Odile are traditionally held by the same ballerina, who must embody both the purity of the white swan Odette and the malignity of the black swan Odile.

Different versions of the end of the ballet exist. Some versions see Odette and Siegfried’s love victorious, but others see Odette committing suicide by throwing herself into the lake, faced with the prospect of remaining a swan forever. Others versions see her soaring forever into the sky, whereas others see Odette and Siegfried die together and fly away in a kind of apotheosis. The version that Rudolf Nureyev created for the Paris Opera in 1984, which has often been described as psychoanalytical and Freudian, is probably the most dreamlike, since the ballet represents in his eyes “a long reverie of Prince Siegfried”.

Of a romantic nature, Siegfried tries to escape the constraints of a real life which imposes on him – for political reasons – a marriage of convenience, by imagining an idealized love with a white swan, the black swan representing the forbidden.

“When the dream fades, the prince’s reason cannot survive it,” says Nureyev.

And in fact, his version, which constantly plays with oppositions, games of mirrors and duality, is much darker in its conclusion than the previous versions: Odette is carried away by the claws of Rothbart under the eyes of the prince who, permanently lost between reality and chimera, goes mad.

“Black Swan” perfectly reflects the psychoanalytical dimension of the version of “Swan Lake” created by Nureyev and constitutes a brilliant evocation of the famous ballet and the world of professional classical dance.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a young dancer who dreams of getting the role of the Swan Queen in “Swan Lake” which will soon be presented by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) at New York City Ballet, following the departure – forced – from the company’s prima ballerina, Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder), deemed too old.

Nina is a shy, naive, perfectionist young woman infantilized by an abusive mother (Barbara Hershey) who did not succeed in her own career as a classical dancer and who keeps her daughter in an emotional cage. They both live in a dark and gloomy apartment, in which Nina’s room, all pink, is invaded by soft toys.

Treated like a little girl (which is what her name means in Spanish, by the way), Nina is entitled neither to respect for her privacy nor to respect for her physical integrity by her intrusive mother. Nina’s mental health is fragile, she is anorexic, experiences episodes of bulimia, self-harm and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She would like to control everything thanks to irreproachable discipline and technicality but has not understood that the rigor she imposes on herself should precisely allow her to free herself from pure technique to access the freedom of her art.

Her confrontation with the role of Odette, aka the Swan Queen, will crack her psyche a little more. Even if her ballet master, Thomas Leroy, considers Nina perfect to dance the role of the pure Odette, he never ceases to doubt her ability to embody the evil Odile.

Nina, who we guess is a virgin, has never explored either her power of seduction or her own sexuality. Her lack of self-confidence is aggravated by the sexual harassement imposed on her by Thomas Leroy on the pretext of giving her access to sensuality, and by the presence of a potential competitor, Lily (played by Mila Kunis).

Lily happens to be the exact opposite of Nina: she is confident, she is sensual, she fully lives her life as a young woman – and she would be perfect to embody the black swan Odile.

The strange bond that Nina forges with Lily and the unhealthy power that Thomas Leroy exercises over Nina end up rocking the young dancer’s mental health. Reached by the fundamental duality of “Swan Lake” on which she works relentlessly, Nina no longer distinguishes the real from the imaginary: episodes of schizophrenia and psychosis follow one another and madness touches her, like Prince Siegfried.

Duality and plays of mirrors (in the figurative sense but also in the literal sense, with these mirrors in which all dancers observe themselves permanently) are at the heart of Nina’s psychic fracture.

Lily represents freedom, sexuality and the dark dangers that Nina associates with them (alcohol, drugs, unbridled sex) but Nina also covets them. Even if Nina is always dressed in light colors ranging from white to pale pink (as Odette is) while Lily is obviously always dressed in black (as Odile is), the fact remains that Nina would like to be the free-spirited Lily. Because Lily, who knows how to let go when she dances, perfectly embodies the role of Odile and what it means: uncontrollable, unleashed and obscure passions.

Beth MacIntyre, the fallen prima ballerina, arouses the same feelings of attraction/repulsion in Nina, who would like to be as talented as her eldest was. Beth also represents Nina’s future, with her career ending and her inability to dance – the body being destroyed.

Nina thinks she has pierced the secret of sexuality and passion – and therefore the secret of the role of Odile which eludes her, by appropriating the attributes of Lily (a black t-shirt) and Beth (a lipstick, notably) who seem to her to be “real women”, but the more she searches, the more her sanity wavers.

In her desire to live a freedom and a sexuality that have long been refused and which are repressed, Nina recalls another young girl restrained by an abusive mother: Carrie, in the movie by Brian de Palma.

“Black Swan” is a cruel portrayal of the professional world of classical dance, in which almost unattainable standards are imposed on dancers. The technical exercise of classical dance itself has long assumed mistreating one’s body (it’s getting better and better) in order to perform figures of extreme difficulty.

Natalie Portman lost 20 pounds to play Nina, and despite the intensive dance lessons she took in preparation for the role, American Ballet Theater dancer Sarah Lane dances in the majority of the dance scenes. Even if Natalie Portman, Benjamin Millepied, Darren Aronovsky and the production have argued that the actress had danced 85% of the dance scenes of the final version of the film, we know, thanks to a backstage video which disappeared later, that Natalie Portman’s face was digitally affixed to Sarah Lane’s body. For the close-up shots where it is indeed the actress who dances, a trained eye quickly sees that she does not master the movement of the arms which represent Odette’s wings, which requires pivoting the elbow without turning the hand and, a sacrilegious crime in the eyes of any ballet master, her hands lack “intention”.

The fact remains that her acting is brilliant and that “Black Swan”, which perfectly exploits the neuroses of a very particular and very closed world, is an excellent psychological thriller.

Second-hand Simone Rocha x H&M dress – Miu Miu sunglasses – Repetto flat shoes

August 11, 2023