“Carnage” – Roman Polanski

I defer in almost all matters to the New Yorker’s film critic Anthony Lane. But I have to gently disagree with his huffy dismissal of Carnagehttp://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2011/12/19/111219crci_cinema_lane?currentPage=all.

Our contrasting reactions to the film stem from our very different expectations of the theatre. Lane is as polite as he is effortlessly erudite, and having been brought up to respect the theatre, he clearly finds it difficult, not withstanding the endless disappointments he must have experienced there, to see it for what it is. It’s where writers who aren’t quite good enough for television or cinema go to hide.

That sign that met Nicholas Ray when he arrived in New York from Wisconsin in the 1930s, which read “the theatre is dead; let’s give it a decent burial” stood, and stands as an appropriate headstone.

So the play that this is based on, The God Of Carnage by Yasmina Reza is exactly what one should have expected. As a piece of serious writing it will of course disappear into the ether, and will only ever be of use to am dram socs and secondary schools. But that’s hardly the point. It’s just a bit of fun, that’s all!

A pair of upwardly-mobile, New York couples spend a day together discussing what’s to be done about the boisterous behaviour of their respective children. Inevitably, the veneer of respectability is soon scraped clean, and they are promptly tearing strips off of one another. The film is every bit as predictable as that makes it sound, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

It’s the kind of thing Woody Allen used to make in order to raise the money for his more personal films. In exchange for getting his more serious comedies funded, he’d produce something light and frothy to keep the money men happy. So for every Manhattan, The Purple Rose Of Cairo and Crimes And Misdemeanours, there’d be a Hannah And Her Sisters, a Bullets Over Broadway and a Vicky Christina Barcelona. Devoid of substance and made entirely of sugar, they’re an instant pick-me-up, but are perfectly charming nonetheless. That’s what this is.

I would though challenge anyone to guess that it’s a Roman Polanski film if they hadn’t been told so beforehand. It’s not so much directed as it is a filmed play. But considering that Polanski hasn’t made anything of substance since Tess in 1979, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Any competent director would be flattered when working with actors of this calibre, all of whom deliver wonderfully. Though a better director would have insisted on imposing an ending, which the play plainly lacks, and which is exactly what Polanski himself had done on his best film, Chinatown. I don’t know. Perhaps he has other things on his mind these days.

Not withstanding all of which, Carnage should be seen for what it is. Quite silly, and hugely enjoyable.

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