Saturday, January 14, 2012

Roman Polanski puts "God of Carnage" on screen -- and takes himself so seriously

The film “Carnage”, directed by Roman Polanski, rather reminded me of my experience in 1967 or so seeing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”, that in black and white, at the huge Granada theater in downtown Lawrence, Kansas when I was in grad school.  I still remember the sniping in Mike Nichols’s film based on Edward Albee’s play.

This new little film mostly takes place in a Brooklyn apartment, overlooking the East River, not so far from my favorite “Bargemusic”.  It’s shot in full 2.35:1 to mimic the effect of a stage, where the four “grown up” characters can snipe at each other, and worse (that in a moment).  I wondered in the credits why it took film companies in four countries and a horde of carpenters to make a movie that could have worked Dogme style with ordinary video in a typical larger NYC apartment.  (This is my second "Brooklyn" film in a week; "Pariah" was filmed nearby.) 

The movie is based on the play by Yasmina Reza, “God of Carnage”, and was on Broadway.  And the movie pretty much is a play.

In the quick prologue, one boy punches another with a stick on a NYC park.  Then, Alan and Nancy (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet), whose son was the alleged bully, are visiting Michael and Penelope (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster), parents of the victim, to make amends.  They keep trying to leave the apartment on amicable terms, and stuff happens.   First, the “home team” offers peach cobbler (a mistake, it turns out) and espresso; then Alan keeps getting Blackberry calls about a case.

The vocational information is interesting. Penelope is a writer (“I wrote a book”) and had a book on art history co-published through the establishment, and is working on a project involving Darfur. Her husband is a handyman salesman. That seems odd.  But Jodie Foster acts appropriate but. But Nancy is an investment banker and Alan some sort of liability lawyer. Alan keeps on talking about corporate press releases and blogs when he takes the phone calls, so the theme of “credibility” in media seems important.

But things go downhill.  The constant “false starts” on “leaving” and not making it on to the elevator take their toll.  Nancy suddenly doesn’t feel well, says she is nauseated, and becomes much more argumentative.  Suddenly, she vomits all over the hosts’ art history books.  It seems like, her lunch, let alone the cobbler, didn't "digest". 

The small audience at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington was giggling a lot now.  The slide continues, and it turns into women vs. men.   Nancy, despite her total loss of control, starts drinking heavily and behaves even worse.  The limits of technology will be tested deliberately.

In the end, I wondered, what is the point?   My Army buddies would have said, there is no point in this 80-minute exercise (but the play must have fared well enough -- it's considered a "comedy").  It simply turns into black comedy.  Oh, yes, there is some argument about marriage, and men saying that having kids (through wives) has just become too dangerous for them, and that women are too much trouble.  Is the point, then, to document the slide of “marriage” as a civilizing institution? Maggie Gallagher would then love this movie.  It’s their kids who “pay”.  At least, there’s no rogue planet approaching Earth in the last scene.

Official site from Sony Pictures Classics is here ; Sony apparently was in on this film from the beginning.  The film was an Opening Night attraction for the New York Film Festival in 2011. 

What would Woody Allen do with this material?

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