Middle Row, Centre: Polanski’s Carnage

The second-last movie in Landmark Cinemas’ FilmtasticFilms series at theQwanlin Cinema this week isCarnage, a black comedy with an all-star cast.

Academy Award winners Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and Jodie Foster, and Oscar nominee John C. Reilly are featured as two New York City couples whose children are involved in a playground altercation.

Waltz and Winslet play prosperous lawyer Alan Cowan and his investment broker wife Nancy. When their son Zach swings a stick at his friend Ethan and knocks out two of his teeth, the Cowansare properly mortified.

They visit the swank midtown home of Ethan’s parents, Michael and Penelope Longstreet, played by Reilly and Foster, to deliver their apologies and try to work out the situation peacefully.

Michael is a plumbing supplies distributor, while his wife is a bookstore clerk and budding author, writing a book about Darfur.

Carnage is a film adaptation of the 2009 Tony award-winning Broadway play Gods of Carnage, conceived by Paris-based novelist, playwright and actress Yasmina Reza.

Whitehorse theatre-goers will be familiar with the story from the Guild Theatre production of Reza’s play which opened this year’s season (see What’s Up Yukon, September 15 and 29, 2011).

The film version is co-written and directed by the notorious Roman Polanski, who made a Paris soundstage double as a Brooklyn condominium, since his much-trumpeted legal difficulties make it impossible for him to film in the U.S.

Carnage easily brings to mind Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. While the Cowans’call on the Longstreets is initially intended as conciliatory, and designed to restore calm to a potentially messy situation, things rapidly get out of hand.

The Longstreets are clearly the social inferiors of the Tony Cowans, whom they feel are phony and pretentious.

Corporate lawyer Alan begins to get on everybody’s nerves, by constantly interrupting the gathering to converse loudly on his cell phone to a pharmaceutical company client he is defending against a lawsuit.

For his part, Michael’s sick mother keeps phoning him to complain and get medical advice.

The two couples’ attempts to iron out the situation in a civilized, grown-up manner rapidly descends into some decidedly un-grown-up behaviour, as the parents come to realize that they really cannot stand each other.

Fuelled by single-malt scotch and diverging lifestyles and philosophies, civility descends intoclamour and chaos.

Soon they’re all shouting at each other, and as the battle-lines are drawn, we see each couple not only turn against the other, but against their own mates.

Polanski induces a deliberate atmosphere of claustrophobia, as all of the action throughout his film’s 80 minutes takes place entirely within the confines of the Longstreets’ apartment.

Ultimately, as each character expounds on their takes on child-rearing, racism, social status and each other, the whole kerfuffle really amounts to much ado about nothing.

Still, Polanski manages to hold us captive throughout, as the thin layers of social nicety are stripped away to reveal the brute in everyman.

Carnage plays at the Qwanlin Cinema at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 18 and at 7 p.m. on March 19, with no posted rating.

Sunday also features a free showing of the documentary Games of the North: Playing for Survival, presented at 6 p.m. at the Old Fire Hall by the Yukon Film Society.

It’s a compelling look at four Alaskan athletes as they compete in the Arctic Winter Games, originally aired on PBS in April 2011.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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