Based on Yasmine Reza’s play God of Carnage, Roman Polanski’s Carnage is the director’s first film since last year’s legal fiasco engendered by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. Carnage was screened today at the Venice Film Festival, where it was greeted by mixed-to-enthusiastic reviews. [Note: I initially had “generally mixed reviews,” but that was too harsh an assessment.]
Though set in New York City, Carnage was filmed – for much-publicized reasons – on a Parisian stage. Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly play two couples who forget the meaning of the word “civility” after spending a little over an hour arguing about a problem between their respective children. Polanski and Reza co-wrote the screenplay adaptation.
The presence of Winslet, Foster, Waltz, and Reilly means that the Carnage cast boasts no less than four Oscar wins (including two for Foster), and an additional eight Oscar nominations. Not to mention Polanski’s own Best Director Academy Award for The Pianist and his four other nominations in various categories.
Under the Sony Pictures Classics aegis, Carnage opens in the United States on December 16. Below are a few review snippets:
“Carnage is a film about four people who hate each other and are unable to leave the room. Sometimes they make it far as the door and once or twice to the lift, though on each occasion they are pulled back by the unfinished business of their exquisite loathing and bitter contempt. With this stealthy adaptation of the Yasmina Reza stage play, director Roman Polanski has rustled up a pitch-black farce of the charmless bourgeoisie that is indulgent, actorly and so unbearably tense I found myself gulping for air and praying for release.” Xan Brooks, The Guardian.
“It’s been a while since Polanski’s done an out-and-out comedy … and the good news is that Carnage is very, very funny. The play brought down houses around the world, and the director and his cast hit every beat with expert timing; there are moments here that rival anything we’ve seen in recent years for hilarity. … But it’s also a film of very little ambition, a minor entry in the director’s canon.” Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist.
“Couple turns against couple, husbands against wives, and the tulips, handbags and bodily fluids begin to fly, in a payoff that has as much zing here as it did in the play. Yet while Carnage is still largely a hoot, it never divorces itself from the talky trappings of the stage; the considerable effort expended to let the piece breathe onscreen merely exposes its underlying artifice, making it fairly easy to reject Reza’s thesis that individuals live in a natural state of opposition according to gender, class and personal philosophy.” Justin Chang, Variety.
“Roman Polanski has often been at his best in close quarters – the small yacht of Knife in the Water, the Warsaw ghetto of The Pianist, the house in The Ghost Writer, the apartments inRepulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant — so it should be no surprise that he’s right at home examining the venality of the human condition in the living room of the Brooklyn apartment that serves as the setting for Carnage. Snappy, nasty, deftly acted and perhaps the fastest paced film ever directed by a 78-year-old, this adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play God of Carnage fully delivers the laughs and savagery of the stage piece…” Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter.
“Little attempt is made to disguise the fact that this is the film of a play. And the dramatic gears grind a little during certain shifts of allegiance along couple and gender lines. But making the audience feel claustrophobic is central to Carnage’s method: we’re penned in, unable to leave this airless apartment … The film also celebrates an old-fashioned, underrated cinematic pleasure: the chance to see an ensemble cast of fine actors sparring with each other, and at the top of their game.” Lee Marshall, London Evening Standard.
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics.
Singers have been dabbling in movies with varying degrees of success for as long as feature films have been around. Opera star Geraldine Farrar became a movie star for Cecil B. DeMille in early silent era productions such as Carmen (1915) and Joan the Woman (1916). Later on, there were Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Yves Montand, Elvis Presley, Charles Aznavour, Barbra Streisand, and the list goes on and on until we get to Madonna, whose sophomore directorial effort, W.E., has just premiered out of competition at the Venice Film Festival to generally negative reviews.
W.E. tells two separate stories: That of Wally (Abbie Cornish), a married New Yorker who becomes enamored of a security guard (Oscar Isaac) at Sotheby’s, and bits from the life of American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and her relationship with King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), who abdicated the throne to marry her. Madonna herself co-wrote the W.E. screenplay with Alek Keshishian.
Acquired by The Weinstein Company, the same people who brought you (in the United States) the Best Picture sleeper hit The King’s Speech, W.E. is slated to open in the U.S. on December 9, right in the thick of late-year Oscar season. Below are a few review snippets:
“Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson – marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis – it’s doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in W.E., Madonna’s jaw-dropping take on ‘the 20th-century’s greatest royal love story.’ The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel.” Xan Brooks, The Guardian.
“The intentions are good, but it’s clear that Madonna has done what she set out to do without heeding the advice of a much-too-obliging crew. Thus, she has confused a historical film with a fashion show. It’s true that the costumes are elegant, while the period reconstruction, if somewhat historically questionable, was industriously accomplished. But the film lacks what is essential: a soul.” Romain Le Vern, Excessif.com.
“… [I]t seems that Madonna has, if anything, gotten worse since Filth and Wisdom. It’s not that she has a bad eye—the film’s handsomely shot by The Lives of Others DP Hagan Bodanski, in the same way that a perfume commercial is handsomely shot—it’s more that her visual approach could best be described as ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks.’ The camera barely sits still, stock changes from shot to shot, people walk down corridors in slow motion, all without rhyme or reason.” Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist.
“Especially dreary is the slow-burning affair between Wally and Evgeni, the security guard, who just don’t seem meant for each other on any level. … But for the audience, Wally, despite Cornish’s gentle and warm presence, offers very little in terms of personal interest or as a key into the world of one of the last century’s most discussed couples.” Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter.
Photo: The Weinstein Company.