So, I am WAY behind on my New York Film Festival blog coverage, and I do hope to get up to speed soon, and I do recommend in the meanwhile that you check out my Close Personal Friend The Self-Styled Siren's ruminations on the fare she's seen thus far, as her notes are as trenchant and acute and delightful and well-mannered as she herself is. I dowant to report that I did get a rather big kick out of Carnage, the film Roman Polanski has directed from an adaptation of Yasmina Reza's international hit play thingie. It seemed to go over very well with much of the rest of the Festival press and industry audience too. The piece as filmed is a pretty good satire that, in and of itself and perhaps necessarily, underscores the limitations of pretty good satire as a form. Which is to say that its various reversals are a little, well, telegraphed. There's a little bit of a paradox inherent in a piece that aspires to aggressively twist the nipples of its target audience's collective sense of propriety and/or social grace while at the same time satisfying said audience's expectations of entertainment. Which may in fact be precisely the point...only the film doesn't take things that far. It's modernist, not post!
But I did enjoy it, and after the film, I happened to run into a colleague who out-and-out hated it. And who said, and I quote, "There was nothing cinematic about it." Which I kind of couldn't believe, in the first place because more than anything else, Carnage is an absolutely virtuoso piece of cinema craft. As many of you likely know, the whole film, save for a brief prologue and epilogue, is set in a single Brooklyn apartment and its hallway. Polanski treats this space and its varied subspaces absolutely cinematically; the film is a potential masterclass in staging, blocking, camera angle, shot selection, shot length, pacing in terms of both rhythm of actual cutting and duration of shot, and so on. One could write a 1,200 word piece alone on how Kate Winslet's physical stature mutates over the course of the film's hour and twenty minutes. (We should note that Polanski's actual frame—film, that is—is wider than the image posted above.) It's all kind of amazing even if you're not crazy about the content of the picture. So, yes, I would say, entirely cinematic.
And yet my friend, who hated it...and who, and this is really the beauty ironic part, I rebonded with a couple of weeks back on account of our shared conviction that David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method is both really great and, yes, entirely "cinematic," found it to be not. And of course I wonder why, and I do look forward to having a longer conversation with her about that. And I post this now not to make fun of my pal or call her out or any such thing but because it struck me as kind of odd and funny, the language we adopt when we're kind of affronted. My friend also found Carnage "misogynist," (in case you're wondering what road one of the drama's predictable turnarounds goes up, there's a clue for you) and it was pretty clear that the whole experience had touched her in a way that was a little more irritating than an average bad-movie experience. In a sense maybe the point was that calling it uncinematic was the deepest insult she could give it, and an insult she felt it deserved. But I strongly believe that the film is, well, frankly, not that thing. And, of course, conversation about movies is rather different than writing about movies, although what with this kind of comment-friendly format, and with Twitter, and with and so on, writing about movies and movie criticism and talking about movies is becoming a big ball of virtual wax and a different one from what it was. But I think that while conversation about movies can absolutely be about the vagaries of taste, criticism has to go beyond that. This conviction is really at the core of my whole quarrel with that ridiculous "cultural vegetables" conceit/debate.