Toronto 2010: ‘Black Swan’ gets an academy dry run


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The crowd that turns out to the most formal of Toronto venues, the capacious Roy Thomson Hall, is usually enthusiastic but exactingly polite. There are standing ovations, restrained in-movie reactions and, at the end of the screening, spotlights on the filmmaker so he or she can take a bow. It’s the closest the more rough-and-tumble North American film festival world gets to Cannes or Venice.

(It’s also a sharp contrast from the campus setting of Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre, where loud and informal rules the day. There, a young crowd hoots and hollers at the genre movies and comedies, and the red carpet is as likely to be populated by go-go dancers as it is by Oscar de la Renta.)


So it would have been folly to assume campy anarchy at the ‘Black Swan’ premiere at Roy Thomson Monday night, no matter how much the movie indulges in same. But for a buttoned-down event, things did get a little ... unhinged.

During the screening, moments of unexpected scares sent ripples of gasps and nervous laughter through the crowd. Festival screenings can feel a little cold, and thus less communal, than the commercial variety. That wasn’t a problem here.

Meanwhile, rather than just politely presenting the cast on stage before the lights went down, director Darren Aronofsky took some liberties. Introducing co-star Vincent Cassel, he said that ‘my big regret is that I’ll never get to direct him in French, because I’m from Brooklyn, and we don’t speak French in Brooklyn.’

A moment later he encouraged the audience to continue clapping for star Natalie Portman and keep the spotlight on her because ‘she hates this stuff,’ and Aronofsky, evidently, enjoys making her squirm (good-naturedly).

The scene was fitting for a film that is willing to flirt with the over-the-top -- and then vault right over it -- with its crazy mix of serious ballet scenes, magical realism, Argento scares and the occasional moments of violence and soft-core sex.

In a way, Roy Thomson is the best test for a hybrid composition like ‘Swan.’ The venue offers a crowd disposed to liking auteurs and high-art setting such as ballet, but one that may not be as ready for something more lurid. In other words, it offers the academy crowd. And it clearly played to them.


Fox Searchlight may still have some concerns that awards attention will get channeled to Portman (a very strong lead actress candidate) instead of spread all around. But the fact that the movie was embraced by the Roy Thomson crowd, which embraced the moments of physical grace and symphonic beauty and at least accepted, if not enjoyed, the other elements, has to be reassuring. There’s still work to be done if Searchlight wants this to be an all-category contender. But if the Monday reaction said anything, it said that it’s work that can pay off.

Speaking to 24 Frames as part of our larger print story on the film, Aronofsky said he’s ready for disparate reactions, from the awards community or anyone else. ‘I’m used to controversy with my work because it doesn’t fit people’s expectations.’ With the start of the awards circuit upon us, he can begin bracing himself.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: ‘Black Swan.’ Credit: Fox Searchlight