reviewed by James Cheetham
written for the Kensington & Chelsea Review
While the title of Polanski’s latest cinematic endeavour may be one of chaos and impromptu madness, the kind of carnage Polanski pelts the characters of his films through is always one of precise manoeuvre and forced bravado. So comedy may seem a somewhat odd or at least unexpected change of pace for the man who is best known for his tightly handled horrors and thrillers.
His was the hand that controlled Catherine Deneuve’s psychological break down in Repulsion, the mind that visualised the creeping horrific realisations of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. But with Carnage it comes as a surprise to see just how well he shuffles himself into the role of comedic director, while still staying true to the themes that regularly crop up in his films. An adaptation of French playwright, Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, which began its run in Paris, Carnage plays it small, trapping two polar opposite couples within an enclosed space and focusing upon their interactions with each other.
Because of this, Carnage allows Polanski to explore his favourite themes albeit in a less extreme and more realistic manner. You’ll find no satanic witch covens or political war criminals here, but instead the parent you may bump into in the school playground while waiting for your child to finish school. That vague face who you’ll share a moment’s brief small talk with while pretending you’re the best of friends. Cast in the roles of the carnage makers are Jodie Foster and John C Reilly as the Longstreets, with Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz as the Cowans.
The film begins on a brief moment of open expanse and shows the child of the Cowans hitting the Longstreet’s son in the face with a stick, in the exaggerated words of Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) “disfiguring her child.” As mentioned early on in the film however, “we’re all decent people, all four of us”, god forbid that when these adults meet up to discuss their sons’ behaviour they would end up bickering just as ridiculously as their 11 year olds.
Except they do, these upstanding citizens of Manhattan letting their superficial maturity wane as issues of class, gender and profession crop up making it less of a civilized get together and more Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Keeping the action within the small environment of the apartment allows for Polanski’s well known motif of claustrophobia to come into play, with cinematographer Pawl Edelman’s angles and close ups of the characters and the apartment conveying a homely environment as a cage.
It transforms it into an arena for the combatants to build up to their eventual outbursts, whether this is projectile vomiting, the throwing of bags or the decimation of tulips. So, while the comedy of Carnage may be a different approach for Polanski, similar themes keep it attached to his previous body of work. For example, Ewan McGregor’s writer stuck within the confines of the Prime Minister’s cold and uninviting safe house in The Ghost Writer, or the claustrophobic rooms and corridors of his ‘apartment’ trilogy; Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant.
The character breakdowns in Carnage may not be quite as unnerving as these examples but this allows for a different element of voyeurism to take effect. We know these characters, at times we have been these characters, so unlike some of his other films, Carnage is more accessible and relatable for the audience. It instils a sense of guilt as you watch them argue and attempt to subtly put one another down, knowing on some macabre level you have probably given into your inner indecent compulsions and acted similarly.
The sense of claustrophobia and the unleashing of one’s inhibitions is something Polanski constantly returns to and could be seen as a result of his private life. With Carnage being his latest film since his house arrest in Switzerland, the ability to tap into the idea of continually being shut in yet so close to a possible escape is something he is clearly fascinated with.
This is seen with the Cowans as they edge towards the front door, eventually make it out to the elevator twice, and giving into their impulses to retaliate, find themselves back in the four walls of the apartment to argue their points further. Christoph Waltz fares the best out of all the actors as the high flyer lawyer continually breaking up the conversations by taking his business calls and infuriating his wife. He is also the one with some of the best put downs, always delivering them calmly. His performance and direction from Polanski harkens back to Chinatown and Jack Nicolson’s portrayal of J.J Gittes, the two characters both set in their unwavering view of the world and the subsequent witty uncaring dialogue that comes from this, making Waltz and Nicolson the cowboys of their Polanski films.
Despite his controversial private life, Roman Polanski will always be celebrated as one of the auteurs of modern day cinema. His scripts thrive off a collection of characters that may appear ‘decent’ at first glance but ultimately end up giving into their animalistic inclinations.
We’ve seen this with Rosemary’s husband in Rosemary’s Baby, the well to do actor who cares for his wife whose selfish motives are revealed by the end like the collective neuroses of Carnage’s cast. And while some say Carnage is a break from Polanski’s usual cinema, he has never been one to tie himself down with one particular genre despite his most recognised films being of the horror persuasion.
His adaptation of Oliver Twist and The Pianist see him harkening back to his orphan childhood, while Chinatown and his altered ending of the original source material reflected his unimaginable turmoil of the tragic loss of his wife. Carnage may be one of Polanski’s first forays into outright comedy but it still manages to link in with his previous work instead of being a break from form, and like many of his films it manages to reflect particular events of his personal life at the time. A reflective yet orchestrated kind of carnage.
reviewed by James Cheetham
written for www.subtitledonline.com
Rare Exports, while technically a horror film, is your quintessential Christmas movie, a term that manages to conjure up images of bearded rotund men and a cherub chubby child out to discover an important life lesson – and it achieves all this. Just with an added bit of spice in the fact that Santa Claus is a horned devil man far more hell bent upon punishing the wicked children than ever bothering to shower gifts upon the good.
Making a merry stand against the coca cola created image of the Santa Claus we have these days, director Jalmari Helander makes a brave attempt in tearing down this accepted jolly creature and instead replaces him with a far more sinister character who’d have far more in common with the beasts found in the Grimm Brothers’ original fairytales.
As a man who quietly climbs atop our roofs and climbs down the chimney to enter our children’s bedroom solace, it would seem Santa Claus should have always been a character to fear and this is what happens to Pietari Kontio (Onni Tommila), the young Finnish boy-hero of Rare Exports who decides it is his duty to stop the evil ascension of Father Christmas.
Read the rest of the review at: http://www.subtitledonline.com/reviews/rare-exports-a-christmas-tale-2
Taking a change of pace from my usual horror movie fanfare, I took the opposite route last night and went down the dreaded romantic drama genre, and like a sucker for punishment, I made it a double bill. The two films of last nights candle lit date between me and my laptop being, Like Crazy and One Day.
Reviewed by James Cheetham
The Skin I Live In, Pedro Almodovar’s latest cinematic tale, is his usual genre bending and gender twisting affair that weaves through a narrative of a sometimes mythical, other times all too human, scope that pounds through its running time like only a maestro filmmaker could orchestrate.
With a plot that can be dissected into three concise parts, which initially fail to offer much of a link other than the central character, but then ultimately and disturbingly clash into place, The Skin I Live In charts the unsettling dynamic between Antonio Bandera’s Madrid based scientist/doctor and his mysterious patient, Vera (Elena Anaya). It becomes evident that Robert Ledgard (Banderas) has been using Vera as a human specimen to uncover the depths science can reach in the field of face transplants and skin grafting, and events reach a frenzy when the son of Ledgard’s maid (Marisa Paredes) makes an unwelcome and over-due appearance.
As the hulking brute of a man intimidates his way into the lavish home of Ledgard, which also houses his laboratory and Vera’s room/prison, revelations are unleashed as a consequence of a harrowing sequence of violence. This then leads us into an Almodovar staple, a lengthy flashback to six years prior which gradually unfolds the history of Ledgard and Vera, eventually leading back to the present day catastrophe that becomes their relationship…
Almodovar shows us once again that he is a masterful storyteller, the narrative ticking along immaculately and failing to bore for one second, as elements of the plot slowly but beautifully unwind at a precise pace. It allows room for the viewer to piece plot threads together, but still gives room for the shock of the final outcome, when it finally reveals itself. He imbues the film with a fantastical element, in parts likening the film to fairytale imagery. When the Zeca, the maid’s son, barges in and manages to tear at their dysfunctional family unit of doctor, patient and maid, he is dressed as a tiger (having come straight from a carnival) and transforms into the ferocious beast ripping his way through the idyllic home and becoming the evil catalyst for what will soon develop.
Further connotations can be pulled from gothic literature, with The Skin I Live In displaying obvious parallels with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, evolving the film into a modern day telling of the experimental creature and his/her battle with identity and the need to have his/her love reciprocated. In true Almodovar style then, The Skin I Live In becomes a story that toys with the barriers of sexuality and identity, the issue of gender becoming the ultimate backbone of the film during the final act.
Completing the film is Almodovar’s usual graceful control of the mise-en-scene, skewed angles, blazing fires, corridors back dropped with beautiful yet foretelling colourful paintings. The room in which Vera resides is an artwork within itself, the walls scrawled with dates, times, musing and drawings. Naked female forms etched onto the plain walls bare their genitalia as they lack faces and instead have small houses placed on their necks instead of heads, an intricate detail that showcases Vera’s internal conflict; a homeless individual whose main solace is a broken mind. The music accompaniment is of importance also; at times, reaching Hitchcockian levels, as strings unsettlingly wire through the score, the music coaxed in during moments when it is absolutely necessary and working as part of the film, rather than simply tacked on because it has to be.
While you could complain that it may not be a change of pace for Almodovar, as it fits into his usual format of filmmaking and dances with the same themes that are found in his past efforts, The Skin I Live In is still a majestic film. At times, it becomes one of his most genre pieces, as it tussles with themes the genre of horror is famous for, such as man’s forage into the depths of what he can manipulate the human body into, but he always grounds it with a level of realism that skews it to the realms of a drama/thriller. Each character has a different moral compass, and when you think you have found the villain of the piece, further plot developments cause judgements to be altered. Due to this, when the conclusion arrives, it is bittersweet — you can sympathise with each character but also demoralise then, making for a frustrating yet hypnotic climax.
This sense of bewilderment must also be attributed to the cast, Banderas’ and Anaya’s efforts are as effective as the script in creating characters who dovetail through a sea of ambiguity — in the wrong hands, this would have come across as unbelievable and farcical. Elena Anaya stands out especially, sauntering through moments of tragedy and mistrust, her eyes the magnetic tether between the audience and her character — a stand out scene being a flashback to her wearing a black skin tight suit and a plastic material face mask, the only visible feature being her eyes as they maniacally stare out as she attempts an escape.
As a film that skips between genres and isn’t afraid to lash out a bit of crimson gore when needed, The Skin I Live In is not necessarily going to be a film that suits everybody’s tastes. It has a few graphic scenes that shock and plot points that shock even more, but any established fan of Almodovar is going to come away pleased, as will film fans who enjoy to be pulled along on an intelligent and sometimes maddening ride.