Perfume features prominently in Carol, Todd Haynes’ love story involving two women in fifties America ( played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara : both up for Oscars for their performances in this film next week. )
I saw it yesterday with a Japanese friend of mine in Ginza. And while I found my eyes rolling slightly as soon as the ‘luscious score’ by Carter Burwell began ( so typical of these films as a signifier of Quality Emotion : the piano; the strings, the chords ripped off shamelessy from Philip Glass’s work in The Hours ) and was initially wary of Ms Blanchett’s arch, self conscious presence ( fur-coated; glamorous : an iguana in lipstick ), I soon found myself gradually slipping into the deep bathos of the story ; the intuitive brilliance of the cinematography; both of which drew us in completely and, eventually, had us sobbing silently in our red velvet seats.
But while Carol’s perfume is both commented on and even used in a moment of closeness as the women share some scent together, it is overwhelmed, olfactorily (for me at least) by the scent of their cigarettes: what perfume could withstand it ? ( how on earth could people have stood the smell back in those days? Those clothes; so exquisite, so soignee and fitted and draped must have just smelled constantly rank. Everyone smokes, obsessively, in the film, to the extent that you wonder how Cate Blanchett’s perfume – Chanel, incidentally, one presumes Five, – could ever have risen above).
In any case, I was wearing enough perfume myself to compensate. Nahema parfum on my skin ( behind my ears and on my neck ), and Shalimar vintage extrait drenched on my cashmere scarf ( perfume on cashmere, wow- I am discovering new possibilities with scent in this regard- clouds: layers: powder: texture – more nuzzling and soft animal, long lasting, sensual ), but this was soon irrelevant or at least a mere redolent backdrop. Because despite a certain Academy awardish typicality ( everything so perfect: a perfectionist’s lack of spontaneity), the sheer visual artistry I was seeing up there on the screen, and the depth of atmosphere ultimately created as the two elope in the snow at Christmastime – beautiful, even visionary – blurred my customary syntaesthesic reaction to the cinematic screen and had me forgetting my nose for once, immersing me in pure emotion.
I think it was the tension that got me: the REPRESSION. The secrecy, fear; the needless shame; guilt. All of which resonates deeply within me. So sad that it had to be that way and still does for so many: Therese and Carol’s instinctive, and natural impulses; the sweetness and purity of their love, distorted and perverted by crushing, and conventional, ‘morality’.
As in Ang Lee’s masterful ‘Lust, Caution’, one of my favourite ever films ( set in 1940’s Shanghai, a story of the affair between a female spy and an occupying Japanese army forces Chinese male collaborator) there is an extremely long build up in this film of emotional and erotic tension, building up inexorably until the final moment of the lovers’ physical and psychical release: a restraint which is frustrating ( some might find the screenplay slow) but which accumulatively, as the film progresses and the thwarting drama of the characters’lives play out, communicates real, and quite eviscerating, frustration.
When this happens, it is very moving. Tender, and for the characters, overwhelming. As it was, also, for us. I realized that as I left the cinema I had been quite absorbed, submerged.