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Sartre in New York

OUT NOW! Polanski's back with CARNAGE, a hilarious satire about the facade of civility in Western culture.

It’s basically Sartre’s No Exit updated, except instead of hell, it’s set in a middle-class New York apartment (semantics…). Based on a successful play of the same name, Polanski’s latest film is a savage assault on Western – though, of course, American first and foremost – society’s vain pretensions to civilised eminence.

But far from being preachy and oppressive, Carnage is hilarious. This is no doubt thanks to Yasmina Reza, the play’s author and cowriter of the script.

Though it’s difficult to imagine how it could have been as perfectly realised by a different cast. Waltz and Winslet play the conservative couple visiting the apartment of Foster and Reilly’s husband and wife, their liberal counterpart. Their children have gotten into a fight and the parents want to resolve the matter by discussing it like civilised human beings.

What ensues is an exchange of slights and insults that escalates to such a vicious degree that you almost hope weapons would get handed out to see what they’re really capable of – they don’t, but alcohol is served, which alone raises the malignancy bar nicely.

Apart from the opening and closing shots, the entire film takes place in the apartment. Still, one is never left hoping for variation – the dialogue is excellent and the actors know how to make full use of it, generating a break-neck dynamic that completely transfixes the viewer. When the ending comes, it inevitably feels too abrupt and one is left craving more.

Carnage (Der Gott des Gemetzels) | Directed by Roman Polanski (France, Germany et al. 2011) with Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly. Starts Novemeber 25