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Alan Cowan is one of those annoying men with whom you really can’t have a conversation because every other minute, his phone rings and you’ve lost him to a disembodied voice. As his wife Nancy observes, there’s always somewhere other than here that he needs to be. At one point, Alan gets a call when he and Nancy are at an uncomfortable moment in a strange couple’s home. Both want to make a getaway and while the phone call lets Alan distance himself from the awkwardness, Nancy is left with nowhere to go and no one on her side. Alan gets up from the couch they’re sitting on and walks away, while on the phone. In the mirror behind him, you can see an out-of-focus reflection of Nancy. In the foreground, you see Nancy’s hand on the armrest of the couch. It’s white, strong-fingered, elegantly ringed and tipped with a juicy, red nail polish. The hand rests tensely at first. Then the fingers dance, tentatively; then with an impatient anxiety. Not that Alan notices. The fingers flutter, desperately, despairingly. Alan sees the gesture but dismisses it with a little scrunch of his eyebrows and a head bob. The hand stills; fingers outstretched; ring glinting; taut; as though schooling itself into unexpression.

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Kate Winslet as Nancy Cowan, in Carnage

The scene is from Roman Polanski’s Carnage, an adaptation of Yasmin Reza’s play God of Carnage. The story is about two sets of parents who end up meeting when their sons get into a fight and one boy hits the other with a stick. One set of parents is played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly, who are both very good. Christoph Waltz is Alan and hilarious. The hand is Kate Winslet’s, and damn, it’s talented. I’m very sad that I couldn’t find a picture of it, resting on the armrest. Though it must be said, Kate Winslet’s other body parts are gifted too. Take her throat and mouth, for example, which managed to do a fabulous job of projectile vomiting.

Maybe it’s because Carnage is the first film I’ve seen in a while, but I enjoyed Carnage immensely. Pawel Edelman’s cinematography was outstanding in its simplicity. I loved how Edelman kept using the mirrors. The reflections added visual depth to a setting that could have felt very flat (the two couples are essentially stuck in the living room for the entire film) and also played well as a metaphor because so much of Carnage is about constructing an image for the consumption of others. Reza and Polanski’s script is superb. From the first scene, in which Jodie Foster’s Penelope types out a letter outlining the violent incident at a playground that has brought the two couples together, there’s a tight knot of tension and it doesn’t let up. There’s some hints of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in Carnage but the way the alliances shift in Carnage ends up being very different. Also, as fantastic as Elizabeth Taylor was in Who’s Afraid…, she didn’t have a moment as brilliant as Kate Winslet throwing up all over a coffee table. Apparently, when Carnage was screened at the Venice Film Festival, the entire audience broke out in spontaneous applause. This is impressive. Not because it’s the Venice Film Festival but because they were able to snap out of that hypnotic moment and think of clapping. I just gawped.

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Director Roman Polanski with the cast of Carnage

             

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