Venice 2011 Review: Roman Polanski's CARNAGE

Comedy, drama, social issues, family and love. All the good ingredients for a good story and Roman Polanski's wickedly clever and devilish drama certainly doesn't disappoint.

rating: 4.5

For a while there the only articles we could write about Roman Polanski were his issues with the law, and the pressures the U.S. Government were putting on the rest of the world to have him arrested and deported back to the States to stand trial for a crime the victim has long since forgiven him for. So it sure is nice to finally be back writing about him for the right reasons - a motion picture he has directed and premiered this morning to the Venice Film Festival crowd. An adaptation of the play God of Carnage, written by Yasmina Reza, his latest revolves around two Middle-class New York couples who are forced to spend an afternoon together because their children got into a fight at school. So they are trying to do what adults should do: be civilized and solve the issue in a polite manner. As we can all imagine this will be far from the truth and as the wickedly humorous story unfolds the adults become worse then their children using irrational arguments just to prevail on the opponent. It sounds like a simple story but it is never easy when it comes to human feelings and human interaction, in a world where we all have a strong opinion on what is right and what is wrong, often times we forget to take into consideration other people's point of view. What would be the point, as we are never wrong and we never make mistakes, right? Michael and Penelope (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) are the parents of Ethan, an 11 year old kid who is hit by Zachary, which is Alan and Nancy's son, played by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz. The film opens with the two couples who have met in Michael and Penelope's apartment to discuss what happened between their son and the matter seems all resolved but civilized politeness cannot always hide human instincts, especially when it comes to a mother's feelings. So from that point on the film shows multiple aspects of the characters, proving that often times small issues become huge arguments simply because they are fueling some unresolved matter. One couple against the other, man against women, everybody against everyone else. Through the course of the film we observe the creation and the dismantle of many alliances. Once things start to heat up, alcohol appears on the scene making things more interesting as everybody finally starts reveling what he really thinks and not what would be the proper thing to say. Shot in Paris but set in Brooklyn for the whole film (obviously because Polanski is banned from the U.S.) and with the exception of the opening and final sequence, the film is all set in the apartment, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope style. Polanski's direction is simple and makes good use of the hand held camera and some authentic Polanski compositions of the frame, his clear directorial signature voice he hasn't lost over the decades. He lets the story and the actor do all the job, confirming that to make a good film all you really need is a good story and good acting. Everybody does a wonderful job from top to bottom. It's a pleasure to watch these great actors dig deep into their characters idiosyncrasies, flaws and eccentric ticks. Every time Christoph Waltz's phone rings on screen it's a delight for the audience and you may be surprised by Hans Landa's comedic timing! Laughter is genuine and it's not due to cheap jokes but by simply presenting a group of people who become involuntary funny due to their crazy ideas and strange behaviors. Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster are marvelous in the role of the mothers and wives who put up with their husbands for the sake of peace, but as soon as the occasion arises during the film, they explode and take a stand. John C. Reilly does a good job, but sometimes he looks like he is at loss, he doesn't quite fit in. On the other side Christoph Waltz is proving to be a great actor who fits perfectly well among the group of Oscar winners. His facial expressions and physical behavior is a joy for the eye. The film ends leaving things not completely resolved, but when the credits start rolling my first thought was: is it really over? So soon? Time flew by quickly between laughters and serious issues that leave the audience with some questions about what community, respect and love are really about. Comedy, drama, social issues, family and love. All the good ingredients for a good story. But it feels like something is missing. The only flaw? It looks like we just watched a small portion of a story and we would like to know more... and when that happens, the director has done his job well. Carnage will be released in the U.S. on December 16th but currently has no U.K. date set.
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