Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Movie #15 Carnage

Its odd how this has slipped into the schedule with relatively little fanfare. After all, despite his pedarastic adventures, Polanksi is still regarded as one of the great living directors (and I enjoyed his last film, The Ghost) and the cast could make other filmmakers weep with envy - a foursome of Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. The scripts itself also has pedigree, adapted by Polanski and Yasmina Reza from Reza's own acclaimed comic stage play The God of Carnage (albeit transposed from Paris to New York).

The four leads play two middle-class Brooklyn couples, coming together intending to maturely settle differences after their two children got in a fight (an event shown in Haneke-ish dialogue-free fixed-shot during the opening credits). Barring the opening (and closing) shots, the entire film takes place in a single apartment, almost in real time, as self-congratulatory amicability gives way to barbed defensive posturing and finally, a full-blown row.

Now, it's very hard not to use the word 'stagey' to describe the film. And this is the films ultimate undoing - it feels like a stage play, but hamstrung by the lack of actorly freedom - the director and the apparatus of film-making just get in the way. Common devices that work in theatre, or at least are forgivable (the collective suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience being far greater than in the cinema) just don't wash in the film - the characters behave unbelievably; they get drunk too quickly, they switch allegiance too readily, their lines have been too obviously pre-inserted into their mouths. For all of its artifice and technology, cinema strives for a sense of reality, an idea that what's happening up their on the screen actually did happen: we need to believe in it, however far fetched, and despite its workaday premise I just didn't believe in Carnage.

I can't deny that it made me laugh a few times: there are some good gags benefiting from well-timed performances (and the four players can't be faulted). Also the direction is kind of clever, albeit in a rather film-studenty way, with shots getting ever tighter on the characters' faces as tensions rise higher (I had to pinch my arm in the final third and remind myself that this same director made the subtle and magnificent Chinatown). So you may be entertained, or at least diverted, if middle-class comedies-of-manners are your thing (and why not?). But don't expect to feel satisfied; the best you can say about Carnage is: it's a great advertisement for the theatre.