55th BFI London Film Festival: Carnage Review


The God of Carnage is the only God which has ruled indivisibly since the beginning of time.  Power equals strength.  The law of the strongest is always valid, but the powerful is always right.  Due to huge tensions, many nervous cords are being touched, hoarse throats and piles of pulled out hair “the end of the world” has just happened for the quartet of the main characters … and it all went so well.

In simple terms Carnage could be described as Roman Polański’s “talkative” production, the script is based on Yasmina Reza’s play “The God of Carnage”, and it is the author’s title which ideally explains the characters’ actions relating to the, more or less, hidden human nature.  The carnage itself does not unequivocally relate to the events that the viewer is faced with on the screen.  Nerves, lack of control and, what goes with it, increasingly sour jokes, all create a Rubik’s cube, which with one move destroys the whole order, and the source of problem, as it turns out, dwells inside us.

This feature is in some way similar to the film of the previous decade – Phone Booth, directed by Joel Schumacher. Both movies are quite short, they last merely 80 minutes, but at the same time their dialogues are so intense that it is difficult to be bored.  Both films seem to be complete, what more can be said?  There is no space for “time fillers” – the constant dialogues give the train of tense emotions such speed that the derailment is inevitable.  However, the humour is quite hermetic, so although in cinema you could hear bursts of laughter some viewers will describe this film as “talkative”.  The words used…well, there were many, but they prove that each minute was considered at least once.  The usual mumblings of a teenage rebel, mimicking gestures, rolling eyes – all of these does not only show a well performed act, but also the everyday behaviour of people.  Statements – often true, an eloquent summary of momentary gobbledygook, are the domain of Alan, the lawyer (Christoph Waltz : Water for Elephants, Inglourious Basterds). Jokes – mostly poignant are culminating an approaching emotional explosion of unfulfilled Nancy (Kate Winslet: Titanic, Little Children, Revolutionary Road). Behaviours – very human and familiar, presented by the emotionally fulfilled, one would assume, marriage of Penelope (Jodie Foster: Taxi Driver, Contact, Inside Man) and Michael (John C.Reilly: We Need to Talk About Kevin,Magnolia). In one word – all these contrasts, which make an interesting film, to some may seem a bit too over expressed.  This is all because of the misunderstood being, emotional defender of human qualities fantastically played by Foster. And even though with time her character evokes pity, in between moments when one feels the urge to reach for sticky tape and seal her mouth shut as she cannot cope with moments of elation, without a doubt Jodie, as the only one, had an opportunity to show her acting abilities.  She created a character, which is very realistic and at the same time…she drowns her sorrows.

So if I could simply compare my fellow countryman’s film to a boxing ring, then within it we would see a fight between common people versus higher society.  The rules of creating such comical rivalry are simple – different characters, different world, but the same needs, only described by different words.  It is the words that pose a challenge, with perfect gap feelers of nonverbal communication.  The director, from the start, points our attention to unworthy and universal visual first impressions during a meeting rich vs. poor – better/worse.  Here obviously the paramount role is the ability to communicate by the representatives of the uglier gender, which Polański pulled off perfectly.  How is it that men are capable of having an argument one minute and being friends the next?  Where is the link called “reconciliation”? Nowhere.  Simply – they do not care for all this pathetic gloom.  Maybe they remain children forever – a new bird, a new fascination.  Thanks to that however they do not take things to heart and thus remain in a sounder mental state (with all due respect, dear ladies).  “It doesn’t matter that our sons had a tussle, at least they finally dealt with it like real men.  Now – let’s have a drink!”  Of course this statement is reflected through a crooked mirror, even though the salesman of kitchen/WC equipment and the lawyer are totally different people, they have one thing in common – they are men.  This one simple characteristic dethrones all points of view, often exaggerated for their partners’ benefit, for whom, for obvious reasons, everything has an *ENOURMOUS* meaning, unfamiliar only to the uglier gender.  These scenes will definitely bring a smile on any man’s face, because what could be funnier than watching from a distance a very familiar behaviour.

What remains after a crush of Roman Polański with big children? “Ashes, nothing more” in the characters’ heads.  For the viewer – a smile, time pleasantly spent and confusion after realising that we have never stopped being infantile.  The director created a comedy, maybe lacking an interesting play on words (not to be confused with good dialogues), but undoubtedly universal, which presents one good message – don’t do anything by force.  Do you want to improve the world?  Then firstly check your ID and see if your name is Clark Kent. This is (not) ordinary life, where the key “not” is interestingly captured by the director – it is noticeable, but so well known, that it becomes ordinary.  That is why, providing we do not demand special effects and want to relax and appreciate verbal comedies (and I do not have only Woody Allen’s funs in mind), Polish Carnage in the American edition will provide a quality entertainment.

Reviewed by Maggie Gogler

One Comment Add yours

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