The really enjoyable films are so often those you have no expectations of. All I knew about this was that it featured Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet and was directed by Roman Polankski. For coincidence, Simone Felice’s new album includes The Ballad of Sharon Tate which I’ve been listening to this week. Jodie Foster’s been a favourite since Carny (with Robbie Robertson & Gary Busey) which is going to sit right next to Carnage on her filmography. Then I saw it was based on a play, La Dieu du carnage by Yasmina Reza, the French-Iranian writer of the play Art which I’ve seen twice.
The story begins with an exterior long shot of kids in a Brooklyn park. One kid hits another across the face with a stick. That’s it. The rest of the play moves indoors with just the two sets of parents discussing the violence and what should be done about it. The Longstreets are the parents of the injured eleven year old, Ethan, the Cowans of the aggressor, Zachary. It’s a filmed stage play. Brilliant filmed too, without a single touch of flashiness, just pulling out the acting in tight detail. See the cast list. Yes, that’s it. Four actors, a living room, a bathroom, a hallway. That’s all.
Given Polanski’s issues with the United States or vice-versa, I’d guessed the Brooklyn apartment was filmed in Europe (being a Polish, German, Spanish, French co-production) and it was … in a Paris studio too, not on location (which is pretty obvious as we see 360 degrees of the room). I assume the seconds-long Brooklyn scenes topping and tailing it were either just the kids and a second unit, or had a Brooklyn skyline added.
Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly)
It’s very much an actors’ play too. Both Kate Winslet and Christoph Scwartz had dialect coaches listed on the credits, but I didn’t notice a single slip from either. Possibly Winslet emphasised the too … in tulips (British: tyu-lips)… toolips a little strongly. When a British actor is doing American it’s easy to remember ‘noo’ for new but you have to think on less frequent words. It wasn’t wrong, just showing ‘thinking’. Until I saw the credits I hadn’t realized that the brilliant Schwarz was not a native speaker.
Nancy, (Kate Winslet)., just before her ‘worst person’ moment
Every one of the actors has spells where they’re the worst person on screen, and spells where they’re the most sympathetic person on screen. It is very funny, and uncomfortably funny. The central piece involving stenotic vomiting turns your stomach even on screen … goodness knows how they did it on stage. The four characters are extreme. Penelope is a right-on person seeking justice with a PC agenda. Her husband, Michael, sells pots, pans and WC mechanisms, and is your regular guy. John C. Reilly as Michael towers over the slight and tiny Jodie Foster, who acts her heart out.
Alan (Christoph Waltz) with that phone again
The visitors are a slimy corporate lawyer (Waltz) and his wife, an immaculately turned out investment broker (Winslet). Waltz can’t leave his cell phone alone, and it gets more and more annoying. In the last half hour, Michael trots out the 18 year old malt and everyone gradually gets sloshed, which is wheretheir argument all falls apart (even more than it has already). Lovely resolution, but no plot spoilers. It’s fine acting, closely observed with an excellent script … Polanski co-wrote the screenplay with Yasmina Reza.