“We know, without being told, that this woman smells of delicious perfume….”






In an afterword to her 1952 novel “The Price of Salt” (published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan), novelist Patricia Highsmith recalled an incident that took place when she was working in a Manhattan department store during the 1948 Christmas season. A “blondish woman” in a fur coat, “slapping a pair of gloves absently into one hand,” approached to buy a child’s gift. On the surface, it was an unexceptional encounter — the woman chose a doll, paid and departed — but Highsmith writes that she “felt odd and swimmy in the head, near to fainting, yet at the same time uplifted, as if I had seen a vision.”

In real life, the two never met again. But the moment inspired a novel in which the women fall in love, and has now become the gently dazzling movie “Carol.” That word “swimmy” describes it precisely; together, director Todd Haynes, screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, actors Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, cinematographer Edward Lachman and composer Carter Burwell immerse us — nearly drowning us, happily — in beauty and longing. You leave the film’s soft-grained world reluctantly, as if taking off a warm coat when it’s still a little chilly inside.

Haynes, whose nostalgic 1950s melodrama “Far from Heaven” is something of a companion piece to this film, softens Highsmith’s sometimes hard-edge world — this, remember, is the novelist best known for creating the murderous psychopath Tom Ripley. Mara plays Therese, a quiet, thoughtful young woman not yet sure what she’ll do with her life; Blanchett is the poised, precise title character — we know, without being told, that this woman smells of delicious perfume. (How does Blanchett convey that? It’s something in the posture, perhaps.) The store encounter becomes a meal, which becomes a visit to Carol’s elegant manse (where she lives with her husband and young daughter), which leads to a road trip. Along the way, they fall deeply in love: Therese instantly, like a soft thunderbolt; Carol more deliberately, but just as passionately.

Movie Review ★★★★

‘Carol,’ with Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, Sarah Paulson. Directed by Todd Haynes, from a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, based on the novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith. 118 minutes. Rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language. Guild 45th, Lincoln Square, SIFF Uptown.

This being the 1950s, a lesbian affair brings its own peril; we know things can’t go smoothly for Therese and Carol — and they don’t. (Highsmith, though, allowed her literary doppelgänger some hope, which shines through here.) But the film is less about telling a story than creating a mood; letting us wallow in the way Blanchett’s voice, low and carefully placed, makes you think of pearls dropping onto a carpet; or how Mara’s face seems to open up and her breathing changes when Carol is nearby; or how the whole movie, with its burnished colors and city lights, looks like a Hopper painting come to life. “Carol” is, to quote Highsmith’s words written so long ago, a vision.


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13 responses to ““We know, without being told, that this woman smells of delicious perfume….”

  1. bella ciao

    and we also know that she is so NOT wearing Si….
    Even though there is worse in terms of industrial confectionary. I am thinking Detchema to go with the fur coat.

    • YYYYEESSS.How gorgeous. I am not usually a fan of Todd Haynes ( I didn’t like Far From Heaven, or maybe I was just too young at the time to appreciate it, even though I adored Safe.)

      I also didn’t like Blue Jasmine, even though I am a total and absolute Woody Allen acolyte, so in practice, and probably reality, I am not going to like Carol ( I hate perfected Oscar bait where everything is done with perfect taste, it just totally is NOT my thing at all and never is, no matter how hard I try).

      In reality, I am extremely likely to hate this film. And yet I am also, ultimately, an optimist, and it sounds, especially in this particular review, absolutely gorgeous. The set up and basic idea sounds very appealing and affecting, and if she is evincing perfume on screen then I am there. I love that idea. I personally find Cate Blanchett very off-putting while recognising her beauty and skill (she strikes me as an acting robot, I find no soul within) but I am always willing to be persuaded otherwise. I reckon this one could be good. Shame I have to wait until February to watch it though. It drives me nuts that Japan is literally the last country in the world to get new films, often up to five years later!

  2. bella ciao

    I have not seen “Carol” yet because I thought “oh, this will be just like Far from Heaven except with a lesbian angle”… That said I adored Far from Heaven and went to see it twice. I thought it was like later day Douglas Sirk drama but in colour. If you were one of my girl friends I would tell you to focus on the fur coat, the handbags and the nail polish in Carol (as in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Fendi mink in the Royal Tennenbaums. It left a lasting artistic impression..).
    I know what you mean with the robotic Oscar perfection. That spot goes to Meryl Streep in my book – which is a terrible thing to say, I know.

    • No I am totally the same. Acting as brilliant technique, which somehow wows the voters. I watched Foxcatcher the other day, because I had nothing better to do, and my usual theories were confirmed. The overacting person with the prosthetic nose, in this case Steve Carell, gets nominated for a role that in my view destroyed the movie, like an ultra self aware zombie in every scene (REALLY terrible, in my humble opinion), whereas the two fighters were way better. Mark Ruffalo was excellent, very natural, which is probably why he got nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar, and rightfully so, but in my view, Channing Tatum was by far the best: he actually felt like a real person and communicated his shattered masculinity brilliantly.Naturally, he was left out.

      That is why I couldn’t face watching The Iron Lady, because I knew it would just be another one of those talented impersonations that I get no pleasure in watching. I HATE biopics for a start, and that one looked like a nightmare. I am sure I would despise Lincoln as well. I do enjoy a bit of Meryl from time to time as she is just so over the top, like in August, Orange County, but that film was WAY over the top: so much scenery was being chewed that there was practically no house left.

      Somehow I have to go and see this though, if only for the fur coats and the ‘swimmy’ atmosphere. I have never seen the Royal Tennenbaums as I don’t like that director (or Gwyneth), but I can definitely imagine what an impression a fur coat could leave. And it’s quite nice being immersed in a period sometimes, when it is done convincingly.

  3. jennyredhen

    I see Scarlett Johansen as an Acting Robot.. I want to see both the above movies now.. i watched Black Dahlia and Only God Forgives because you “liked” them and was amazed at the violence… especially Only God Forgives.. Only one person ended up alive… but still thought they were worth watching in a twisted kind of way.. LOL

  4. Neil, I saw Carol today and enjoyed it. it’s so funny about the perfume. You do indeed know Carol smells amazing and both her husband and Therese comment on it. There’s even a scene where Therese applies her perfume to both of them. Hopefully you can spot the bottle when you see it.

    Rooney Mara is utterly captivating and very Audrey Hepburn.

  5. David

    I watched the trailer and I couldn’t get past the way Cate Blanchett is all breathy and actressy and just above a whisper when she says her lines, especially the important ones. Give me Lauren Bacall in “Key Largo” any day. I don’t watch many movies these days. I prefer series. I highly recommend “The Affair. ” Ruth Wilson, a British actress, just nails it playing an American. I’ve never seen a series get the feel of NYC, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley so right. I highly recommend it.

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