Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Mark Heyman (screenplay), Andres Heinz (screenplay)
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel
Genre: :Drama - Thriller
Release Date: July 16, 2010 (USA)
Also Known As: Cisne Negro
Filming Locations: Bowling Green, Lower Manhattan, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Company Credits: Production Co:Fox Searchlight Pictures, Protozoa Pictures, Phoenix Pictures
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): Rated R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use.
Runtime: 108 minutes
Nominated for 4 Golden Globes and 18 other nominations.

Jews traditionally go to a Chinese restaurant and to the movies on CHAG HAMULEDET, Christmas. Cindy and I had Chinese on Christmas but went to the movies on ISRU CHAG, day after the holiday. We've been meaning to see this film for several weeks but since we were not able to locate a showing in the Cleveland area then, we waited unti we could see it in Mansfield.

BLACK SWAN has been described by one critic as a drama/fantasy/horror film and I think that pretty much describes it. Having personally ventured into show business myself, I can testify that the movie shows some of the worst aspects of the show biz personality. All aspects of the business are very competitive and only the best make it. This is no less true in ballet than in any other field of entertainment/art. Competition often brings out the worst in performers, and the personae of the obsessively pushy stage mother and the sexually aggressive director are well known to most audiences, and appear richly in this film.

The major figure in the movie is Nina, a ballerina in a New York City ballet company. She lives with her mother, a former ballerina, Erica. Nina is replacing retiring prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre in the new season. The ballet is Swan Lake. The ballet director, Thomas Leroy, appears to have more than professional interest in both Nina and a new dancer in the troup, Lily. Nina sees Lilly as a dangerous competitor, but at the same time, is intrigued with Lilly's life of freedom when contrasted to her own life in which she feels compelled to follow the dictates of her mother. Despite her fear of Lilly as someone who can take her place as prima ballerina at Thomas Leroy's whim, Nina is drawn into a bizarre friendship with Lilly. Lilly appears to be a friend to Nina but has a dark side which Nina finds compelling. In one scene, Lilly sexually seduces Nina but later on in the film we are led to wonder if this sex between the two women was ever real or merely a fantasy.

The final scene is the performance of the BLACK SWAN ballet itself, a mesmerizing performance mostly danced by Portman herself. I am not a particularly devoted fan of the ballet but I fund myself deeply fascinated by the dance scenes. Not only do Portman and Kunis perform adequately as dancers but both of them and Winona Ryder, whom we have not seen for some time, give wonderful acting performances as ballet dancers more controlled by their art than in control of it.

This is a film worth seeing. It contains adult material and therefore may not be appropriate for certain age groups.

Euclid, OH - - December 27, 2010

Cast overview, first billed only:
  Natalie Portman  ...  Nina Sayers  
  Mila Kunis  ...  Lily  
  Vincent Cassel  ...  Thomas Leroy  
  Barbara Hershey  ...  Erica Sayers  
  Winona Ryder  ...  Beth Macintyre  
  Benjamin Millepied  ...  David  
  Ksenia Solo  ...  Veronica  
  Kristina Anapau  ...  Galina  
  Janet Montgomery  ...  Madeline  
  Sebastian Stan  ...  Andrew  
  Toby Hemingway  ...  Tom  
  Sergio Torrado  ...  Sergio  
  Mark Margolis  ...  Mr. Fithian  
  Tina Sloan  ...  Mrs. Fithian  
  Abraham Aronofsky  ...  Mr. Stein  

Trivia for Black Swan:

Vincent Cassel has compared his character to George Balanchine, who co-founded New York City Ballet. The actor said Balanchine was "a control freak, a true artist using sexuality to direct his dancers".

Meryl Streep was considered to play Erica, Nina's mother.

Blake Lively auditioned for the role of Lilly.

Both Rachel Weisz and Jennifer Connelly were rumored to star in the lead roles when the film was first discussed.

Nina's name in the original screenplay was Alexandria.

The production considered setting the film in France and filming in Budapest but the idea was dropped for creative and budgetary reasons.

The film began as a screenplay called "The Understudy" and took place in the world of New York theater. Darren Aronofsky liked the script, but suggested it be changed to ballet.

The script took around ten years to make it to the screen.

Darren Aronofsky offered Mila Kunis the role of Lily over Skype, without an audition.

Natalie Portman lost 20 pounds to look more like a ballerina.

The budget on this film was so tight that when star Natalie Portman had a rib dislocated during a lift and she called the producer for help. She was told that the budget was so low they had no medic. She stated that if they needed to cut items from the budget they could take away her trailer, instead of the medic. The next day her trailer was gone.

Winona Ryder spent 10 days filming her role.

After practicing with a ballet instructor for three months, five hours a day, seven days a week, Mila Kunis learned how to dance en pointe. She had casually practiced ballet as a child.

Winona Ryder who plays the former leading ballerina, only went to one ballet lesson as a kid. She never returned as she thought her teacher was really mean.

The soundtrack, composed by Clint Mansell is a variation on Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" ballet, but played backwards and in a distorted manner.

According to an radio interview on "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," Natalie Portman recommended her friend Mila Kunis for the role of Lily after learning that Kunis had previously had some experience as a dancer.

Natalie Portman revealed that director Darren Aronofsky would subtly try to pit her and Mila Kunis against each other during filming as a way to increase the on-screen tension between their characters.

Natalie Portman sustained a twisted rib during the filming of a dance sequence, and a full recovery took six weeks. During the filming of subsequent dance sequences, she was lifted from her arm pits rather than her sides to avoid repeating the injury.

Natalie Portman drew on her ballet training from ages 4-13 for the role. She resumed ballet training a year before principal filming began. She trained with Mary Hahn Bowers (formerly of the New York City Ballet) and the regimen included fifteen minutes of toe exercises (for her to be on point for dance scenes), substantial muscle toning, and swimming a mile a day.

Natalie Portman hit her head during the filming of one scene, sustaining a bad concussion that required an MRI.

Due to a twisted rib injury, Natalie Portman had to receive physical therapy during filming. According to the director Darren Aronofsky, Portman is actually undergoing a real physical therapy session in one scene with the actual physical therapist.

Mark Margolis appeared in an 'under-five' role as a favor to Darren Aronofsky. He dialogue was cut from the film.

Though Natalie Portman does most of her own dancing, professional ballerina Sarah Lane doubles her in some shots involving complex en pointe moves.

The following analysis of BLACK SWAN from the Interfaith Family website was sent to me by Cindy and edited by me for brevity.

Jewish Women of Black Swan
By Nate Bloom
December 7, 2010

Black Swan: Black, White, and Mostly Jewish
Ms. [Natalie] Portman's experience gave her a taste not only of the physical sacrifices, but also the mental ones. "It was very religious in my mind," she said. "The ritual of, like, breaking in your point shoes and getting them soft, all of that, it's almost like tefillin wrapping in Judaism, this thing you do every day, this ritual."

It isn't every day that an actress compares getting ready to practice ballet dancing to a ritual commandment that many Jews practice before daily morning prayers. But somehow this remark fits in with Black Swan, a movie that isn't about "anything Jewish," but features an astonishing number of Jewish and interfaith actresses in lead parts.

Black Swan opened in a limited number of theaters last Friday, Dec. 3. It got mixed reviews. The director, Darren Aronofsky, who is Jewish, doesn't make films that are easy to watch or are universally acclaimed (see the reviews for his previous films, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, and The Wrestler).

Black Swan didn't break this pattern. If you want to read two very different, but intelligent reviews of Swan, just click over to the respective reviews in the Los Angeles Times (didn't like) and the New York Times (liked).

Despite the mixed reviews, I suspect that that Portman is a shoo-in for a best actress Oscar nomination. The other three actresses in the cast are also reasonable bets for a best supporting Oscar nod.

Black Swan is a psychological thriller. Portman stars as Nina, a talented New York City ballet dancer. Her company is mounting "Swan Lake" and the director (Vincent Cassel) decides—rather ruthlessly—to replace their prima ballerina (played by interfaith actress Winona Ryder, 39) with a new face.

The "Swan Lake" prima ballerina role requires someone who can dance two parts in the same performance. The dancer has to perform the part of the White Swan, a figure that represents innocence. She also has to dance the part of the Black Swan, a figure representing guile and sensuality.

Nina is perfect for the White Swan; but a rival emerges when a new dancer, Lily (played by Jewish actress Mila Kunis, 27), joins the company. Lily seems perfect for the Black Swan part.

Lily and Nina's rivalry soon mutates into a twisted friendship that brings out Nina's dark and reckless side. Interfaith actress Barbara Hershey, 62, appears in a smallish role as Nina's supportive, but overbearing, mother.

A psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet, Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis).

Aronofsky, Kunis and Portman are the children of two Jewish parents. Kunis, as previously noted in this column, was born in the Ukraine and came to the States with her parents and her brother, when she was nine years old. The family settled in Los Angeles with the aid of the HIAS organization (the Hebrew Immigration Assistance Service, which also assists many non-Jewish refugees).

Kunis studied acting in high school and did print and TV ads. Her big break was being cast, just before her 17th birthday, as the "nasty girl" Jackie Burkhart on the Fox TV series That '70s Show. The series ran for eight years and Kunis expressed some frustration about how work on the hit show became somewhat mechanical.

By the way, Kunis and Portman have long been friends in real life.

Ryder, who calls herself Jewish, but was raised secular and isn't religious, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother.

She was born Winona Horowitz, the daughter of hippie intellectual parents, and grew-up in a San Francisco suburb. Ryder was, of course, one of the most successful young actresses of the '80s and early '90s, earning two Oscar nominations for best actress. Then, around 1999, she started to take less interesting roles and her heart didn't seem to be in acting.

In the last few years, she has made something of a comeback—last year's Star Trek and now Black Swan are milestones in her revived career.

Hershey was born (1948) Barbara Herzstein in Los Angeles. Her father, a columnist, was Jewish. Her mother, an Arkansas native, was of Irish Presbyterian background. Hershey has never defined herself as Jewish or not Jewish. She has just simply stated that her father was Jewish and her mother was Protestant.

Hershey got her first TV role when she was 17. In early roles, her beauty overshadowed her acting talent and she was generally regarded as mere "eye candy." But, as explained, she gradually overcome this stereotyping and she has maintained a remarkably high level of film and TV work over five decades.

By the way, I cannot help but wish that Hershey, Ryder and Portman had kept their original last names. (Portman was born Natalie Hershlag.) The names Horowitz, Herzstein and Hershlag are not only alliterative, but were they plastered on movie marquees maybe more people would realize that they were watching four of the most talented and attractive Jewish actresses of our time.

Happy Hanukkah to all my readers!
Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Atlanta Jewish Times, the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Most of the items in Bloom's weekly newspaper column differ from the items in his bi-weekly column on interfaith celebrities for

If you wish to find out more about Bloom's newspaper column, contact him at Please direct comments about this column to

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