Review: Black Swan (15)****

Darren Aronofsky's dark, psychosexual tale of obsession and corruption is set within the insular world of ballet but it could be about any art form that demands passion, dedication and ruthless ambition.

Naturally Aronofsky cannot present a straight portrait of a dancer driven to extremes. Instead he adds a Kafkaesque dynamic to this complex and haunting tale of a fragile young wannabe plucked from the background to replace another dancer (Winona Ryder), deemed over the hill by the company's predatory artistic director, in a new production of Swan Lake.

Natalie Portman is Nina, the delicate newcomer who flits between the suffocating attentions of her mother, a former dancer (Barbara Hershey) and the basilisk eye of Thomas (Vincent Cassel), the autocratic, Svengali-style director of a New York company who makes and breaks star dancers on a whim.

Seen as a fly-on-the-wall insight into a closeted world, Black Swan hints at what goes on in ballet companies. Yet the overwhelming darkness that clouds Nina's journey from faceless company dancer to overnight star cannot be seen as anything other than a descent into fantasy and madness.

Throughout the film Aronofsky hints at the instability of his leading lady, filling the screen and soundtrack with clues about her perilous mental state.

Flitting from light to dark, from reality to fantasy, from eroticism to creepy discomfort, Black Swan eventually settles upon psychosis, self-harm and murder as its key components. No wonder ballet professionals around the world have dismissed it as a tasteless melange of body horror and exploitative sex.

Aronofsky has taken a trip into territory previously inhabited by Davids Lynch and Cronenberg. What's more, he finds himself utterly at home.