Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Carnage, Roman Polanski, France, Germany, Spain, Poland 2011

A first-rate, award winning play, a highly talented, seasoned director, and a stellar cast - there's little room for anything to go wrong, is there? And nothing did. Practically. Based on Yasmin Reza's play, God of Carnage, Roman Polanski's latest offering is a sort-of updated version of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. Which, to be clear, is not to imply that Reza borrowed from Albee's iconic play. If anything, she took her cue from it, got inspired by it, in order to create something that is entirely her own but which, similar to Albee, also comes very much to live through Reza's relentless, razor-sharp, observations of the debilitatingly political correct times we live in.

However, my one issue with Polanski's film is that it ends rather abruptly ... Since I'm unfamiliar with the original play, I'm unable to say, of course, if this is how Reza intended it. Don't get me wrong - I'm usually all for open endings and for films that tell their story succinctly. Nevertheless, here goes one film which I'd have wished to be a little longer and to have some sort of a closure rather than just stopping smack in the middle, depriving the audience of the last act (e.g the brawl which is about to take place ... or so it seems). But, you may argue, that is exactly why it ends where it does.

Carnage, opening scene

One of the best things about Reza's play is her achievement to well-nigh unnoticeably shift the spectator's sympathies and empathies from one character to another - and back again. Identification is thus tricky if not impossible, for every character is in almost equal parts as likeable as they are dislikeable. I also take my hat off to each and every one of Polanski's cast, for they manage to own up to the play, keeping our sympathies in murky waters, and just when you thought you found the one person in this bizarre, yet very real, bunch of neurotics that offers identification, he - or she - does or says something which renders them completely dislikeable.

Carnage premiered to rave reviews at last year's Venice film fest. All the more astounding that it is strangely and inexplicably absent from the list of Golden Globes nominations and other similar such awards ... if nothing else, at least Jodie Foster as well as Kate Winslet should have received a best acting nod. They, even more so than than John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz, are especially outstanding in their very own definition and creation of women-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown. Yet they didn't ... can it be that America's 30-year grudge held against Polanski should have something to do with it ...? I hope not! It's time for bygones to be let bygones!

Something else that deserves pointing out are the wardrobe and the set design for Polanski managed to bring two dinosaurs on board who are at least as seasoned and top-notch as he himself along with his cast, are: costume designer Milena Canonero and set designer Dean Tavoularis. Canonero, who, for instance, worked with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon, is a woman of impeccable, flawless, taste. Like every talented costume designer - though there are so few - she's an expert in highlighting character traits through costume, which is precisely what she does in Carnage (e.g. black power suits for Waltz's cynical attorney and Winslet's investment broker and softer colours for Foster's would-be writer and Reilly's peddler of household goods).

Dean Tavoularis' set for Carnage looks like straight out of a Woody Allen film, his films usually being set in the exact same New York, upper middle-class surroundings, which form the background of Carnage. Tavoularis' achievement to make Foster's and Reilly's apartment look like your quintessential Brooklyn Heights digs is all the more remarkable as Carnage was, of course, shot entirely on a sound stage outside Paris as to this day Polanski is still unable to enter the US without risking to be arrested upon arrival.