Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roman Polanski's CARNAGE at the NY Film Festival

God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza's international smash hit play has been brought to the screen by director Roman Polanski, featuring an all-star cast headed by Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly. It has been selected as the opening night selection for this year's New York Film Festival, and it will be shown this Friday.

In it's move to the screen the title has been shortened to Carnage, but the punch of the original stage work has not diminished, and much of the original dialogue remains intact. The story is a deceivingly simple one. Two couples meet in order to hash out the reasons why the child of one couple attacked the child of the other. This meeting, which starts with all the cordiality and good manners of a house warming visit soon turns into an ugly battleground where resentfulness and pent up anger lead to an afternoon of drunkenness and revelations that leaves all the participants with their nerves exposed and raw. It's the "Walpurgisnacht" of Mike Nichol's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, coupled with a dose of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and a dash of Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel. The result is the kind of exhilarating filmmaking that allows great acting to shine.

Carnage retains it's theatrical setting, never departing from that apartment set except for a prologue that shows us the public park incident between the two 11 year-olds that sparks the conflict, and an epilogue that should set out minds thinking about the events we have witnessed.

Unable to come legally to the United States, Roman Polanski shot the film in Paris, although the Brooklyn setting of the story is maintained. As the two couples, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play Penelope and Michael, and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play Nancy and Alan. All the performances are first rate, and the script allows each actor more than one moment to shine in the spotlight. Ms. Foster, as the righteous, art-loving Penelope gives a performance of theatrical dimensions, at times verging on over the top histrionics. Kate Winslet, her American accent perfect as always, goes from sophisticated elegance to bitter drunkenness with convincing results. Christoph Waltz, playing her lawyer husband, a man more in tune with his Blackberry than with his own wife or son, has an air of detached ennui that fits the character perfectly. But perhaps the most satisfying of the quartet is Mr. Reilly, who slips into his role so effortlessly and convincingly that the performance is totally worthy of a well-deserved Academy Award.

Mr. Polanski is no stranger to filming in enclosed spaces. Repulsion (1965) showed us what he can do inside of a claustrophobic London flat as a schizophrenic Catherine Deneuve descends into madness. Two years later Rosemary's Baby (1968) explores how a dream Manhattan apartment can turn into a prison -- complete with next door witches and warlocks -- for Mia Farrow. Likewise, in this film, the Brooklyn apartment where all the action takes place, is not big enough to contain the emotions that erupt within it.

Once again, Roman Polanski gives us a film filled with ironies and unanswered questions, and in the process, puts us in the middle of a ride that will take us a long time to forget. At the heart of his latest work are four performances that will remain with us long after the last frame flickers on the screen.

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