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Thursday 8 December 2011

Carnage, Film, directed by Roman Polanski, written by Yasmina Reza, 8* out of 10

In their New York apartment, Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C, Reilly) Longstreet host a meeting with another white upper middle-class couple, Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) Cowan. Their two teenage sons have come to blows with potentially costly dental cost consequences for one and possible exclusion from their prestigious private school for the other. In the age of truth and reconciliation commissions and mediation, Penelope Longstreet and Nancy Cowan have agreed to address the conflict in a most adult, civilised and conciliatory manner with no third parties involved. Their husbands go along with this, more or less enthusiastically. As the story begins, it appears that the couples have managed this process in textbook fashion. Having apparently achieved their objective, all that is left, is for their meeting to unwind. All four are however, a little bit too wound-up inside to part company without casually making a point or two.

The French writer Yasmina Reza gained international fame as the author of the play “Art”. In it four French yuppie male friends fall out over a modern painting which one of them has acquired. “Carnage”, based on her play "God of Carnage", is a worthy successor to Reza's first theatre hit. She is very skilled at holding up the mirror of irony to exactly the type of person who will go to see her plays or films. She does this with sharp wit and an empathic sense of humour. What drives us to perform such social acrobatics? Do we want to seem reasonable and civilized, so we can look at ourselves in the mirror with a self-satisfied air? Do we reluctantly believe we need to show our uncivilized, rude and violent teenage children how to deal with conflict the “right” way? Do we want to teach those other parents a lesson about how to bring up a child properly, while demonstrating to them that we did that; never mind if the awkward, sweaty intermediate result of our efforts does not look even to us like an unqualified success? Do we want to show our peers that our professional success is bigger than theirs, or, if it is not, that our cultural refinement is? Or do we really just want to do “the right thing”?

In this film, Yasmina Reza explores all these avenues. She does this without letting the story escape into absurdity and fantasy. Situations like this are very likely occur in real life and are already absurd enough.

All four members of the star cast give excellent performances without overdoing it. The non-American members of the cast, Kate Winslet (who is English) and Christoph Waltz (who is Austrian) successfully portray a New York power couple. Veteran film-maker Roman Polanski has weathered the most recent twists and turns of his private life without losing his well honed director's touch. He has produced a quality film and brought to bear his experience and his skill of letting the camera tell a story with wit and humour sometimes without the need for any dialogue whatsoever.

Carnage would work as well as an ensemble play as it does as a film. This ironic look at the wealthy New York liberal has been produced with a largely European creative team as a European film. The result is definitely worth seeing.

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