Roman Polanski is on top form with this whip-smart chamber comedy of manners based on the play by French playwright and documentarian of modern middle-class obsessions, Yasmina Reza. The two have reworked her play into an English-language script of scabrous, raucous brilliance, and the four lead actors bring their best to it. This is hands down the best film of the festival to date for its jewel-like brilliance - its compact efficacy - the provocations it contains - the laugh-out-loud comedy.
The movie opens with open credits played over the scene of some schoolboys rough-housing, culminating in one kid lashing out with a branch and, we later learn, knocking out the two front teeth of the other kids - an effervescent score by Alexandre Desplat (THE KING'S SPEECH) hinting at the mischief ahead. We then move to the meat of the film - a drama that will be contained in the superbly appointed Brooklyn apartment of the parents of the injured kid, Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C Reilly), as they attempt to reconcile with the parents of the branch-slinging kid, Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz).
At first, the hosts, Penelope and Michael are all touchy-feely liberal graciousness - looking for reconciliation, lessons learned, and sympathy over coffee and cobbler. But already we can see the start of a monumental breakdown of civilisation. Penelope has clearly already judged the evidently richer, businesswoman Nancy as a fake and distant mother, and both Penelope and Michael evidently think Alan - a lawyer - is a rapacious businessman. All three become increasingly frustrated by Alan's incessant use of his blackberry, suppressing a nasty pharma scandal - a fact that begins to unearth Michael's resentment. Still, so far so good, the aggressor will apologise to the victim.....let's all leave.
But oh no! There is no escape. Little disagreements must be rehashed over more coffee and eventually whiskey. Each character picks up on the others' resentments and they all collectively keep picking at each other's scabs until the room descends into outright insults, shouting and projectile vomiting! The liberals are exposed as judgemental interfering bigots - Nancy is exposed as deeply unhappy in her marriage - Mike is exposed as a boorish old-school disciplinarian! And Alan? Well, Alan, as played by Christoph Waltz is the mischievous, self-confident man - the only one of the party who is unashamed to believe in the god of Carnage from the first - who refuses to buy into the touchy-feely reconciliation - and seems absolutely delighted by the caged anger escaping right up until the point his beloved Blackberry falls victim!
Jodie Foster has never been so raw, so exposed, so prickly. John C Reilly superbly plays the transition from quiet house-mouse to macho boozer. Kate Winslet quickly turns from demure, prim conciliator to aggressive child-defending mother. But it's Waltz who turns perhaps the least sympathetic character (in these greedy capitalist bastard -hating times) into the centre of the movie - the most charismatic, comedic and insightful character of the piece. Behind the camera, kudos to production designer Dean Tavoularis in creating the well-appointed apartment that catches the characters with it's twisting halls and rooms; to Pawel Edelman for his superb framing; and above all to the master of the madness that claustrophobia can unleash - Roman Polanski.
CARNAGE played Venice 2011, where it won the Little Golden Lion; and opened earlier this year in Italy. It opens in Greece on November 4th; in Spain on November 18th and in Germany on November 24th. It opens in France on December 7th; in Russia on December 8th; in Turkey and the US on December 16th; and in Portugal on December 29th. It opens in the UK on February 2nd and in Sweden on February 24th.