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Todd Haynes’ immaculate film sweeps us away, but not for the reasons I was expecting.

Take two exceedingly fine actresses, cast them in a story of a lesbian love affair in the 1950’s and have it shot by one of the best cinematographers working today. Shouldn’t Carol leave us devastated, a puddle of tears? Going in, I was, I’ll confess, hoping for that, but the rewards of this film are different: they are softer and certainly more deliberate.

You can’t take your eyes off of Cate Blanchett, who stars as Carol, a soigne mother and housewife, mid-divorce. Shopping for a Christmas gift, Carol spies a doe-eyed saleswoman and begins an almost subtle transaction. Leaving behind her gloves, Carol generously invites the saleswoman who gamely returns them, out to her beautiful home for the afternoon. What the enigmatic Therese (a splendid Rooney Mara) finds there is confusing and alluring.

Phyllis Nagy has adapted Patricia Highsmith’s novel (“The Price of Salt”) with care and a keen sense of the social mores of the time. Therese and Carol are no Thelma and Louise or even Romy and Michelle. Both women know the price of their truths and while they may be brave and irrevocable, they are also, like most women of the restrictive 1950’s, keeping most of it to themselves.

Haynes takes us on their journey (not just the emotional one; there’s an actual road trip here, too) with deliberate pacing. As mesmerized as I was by the fabulously detailed sets and costumes, by the end of this film, I was also rooting for it to, shall we say, get moving? But a more rushed edit might have left out some of Ed Lachman’s breathtakingly beautiful cinematography and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a frame of that.

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