ByTowne ByTowne Cinema
325 Rideau St. Ottawa K1N 5Y4
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A comedy of no manners.
Carnage is a film about four people who hate each other and are unable to leave the room. Sometimes they make it far as the door and once or twice to the lift, though on each occasion they are pulled back by the unfinished business of their exquisite loathing and bitter contempt. With this stealthy adaptation of the Yasmina Reza stage play, director Roman Polanski has rustled up a pitch-black farce of the charmless bourgeoisie that is indulgent, actorly and so unbearably tense I found myself gulping for air and praying for release. Hang on to your armrest and break out the scotch. These people are about to go off like Roman candles.
Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly respectively play Penelope and Michael, a pair of bohemian Brooklynites whose 11-year-old son was attacked in the local park. Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz (sporting a passable American accent) are Nancy and Alan, the parents of the culprit, supposedly visiting to make the peace. But with the battle lines drawn across the coffee table (replete with vase of tulips and Oskar Kokoschka art book) we swiftly realise that there are to be no heroes in this war: no one to rally behind and urge on to victory. Not passive-aggressive Penelope or the blusteringly insensitive Michael, who blithely admits to having thrown his daughter’s beloved hamster out on the street ‘as though it were a sewer rat’. And certainly not the brittle, mean-spirited Nancy, or Alan, a cold-blooded, misogynist lawyer on whom the movie lavishes all the best lines.
In a career stretching back through The Tenant, Repulsion and Knife In The Water, Polanski has proved himself a master at these kinds of claustrophobic chamber pieces. His direction is precise, unfussy and utterly fit for purpose, prowling the four walls of an apartment that was entirely constructed on a Paris soundstage and allowing the action to play out in real time, with no respite. If Carnage has a flaw, it could be that Polanski’s apparent sympathy for Alan at times threatens to throw out the film’s delicate, four-way balance.
That aside, the film barely puts a foot wrong. The acting comes at full throttle while the pacing cranks up the tension in agonising, incremental degrees. At one point this is all too much for Nancy, who proceeds to vomit copiously over the coffee table, coating Penelope’s cherished Oskar Kokoschka book. It is an astonishing scene, an icebreaker like no other. And at the Venice Film Festival screening, the viewers greeted it with a wild abandon, howling with delight and applauding like thunder, perhaps relieved that someone had cracked before they did themselves.
– Xan Brooks, The Guardian
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