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Roman Polanski’s latest film Carnage, based on the Yasmina Rezna play God of Carnage, examines the tensions within upper-class marital life. Shot almost entirely within a luxury apartment, it begins with a meeting between parents over a playground dispute. Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilley) have invited Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz) over to discuss the best course of action in dealing with their son’s fight.

What begins as a cordial display of diplomacy soon unravels, as tempers are gradually lost. Penelope, a bleeding heart liberal, constantly jabs at the Cowans while her husband, a salesman who unwittingly fell into wealth, is a dithering type. Alan, a workaholic attorney, just wants to get out of there, much to the disproval of his prim-and-proper wife who feels pressure to be a responsible parent and do the “right thing” – whatever that is.

The Longstreet’s apartment resembles a simmering pot that is about to boil over. In spite of the glossy art books that sit on the pristine coffee table, it becomes clear that appearances are not always what they seem. The picture-perfect façade soon cracks, and the reality is laid out bare – a group of adults whose social values and marital affairs are more volatile than the stock market.

Carnage echoes elements of Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Much like in The Discreet Charm, an exchange of middle-class pleasantries is interrupted by bursts of the unexpected – a bout of nausea, a fit of rage, an annoying phone call.

Co-written by the playwright Rezna, Carnage is an engrossing examination of the internal contradictions within bourgeois marital life. It is thoroughly entertaining to see these uptight characters “loosen up” and tell us what they really think about life.  At 80 minutes it’s a perfect length to keep our interest – although like the characters eventually concede, we may also want a shot of whiskey by the film’s conclusion.

Carnage screens at Cinema Nova on Thursday March 1. For session times and tickets visit www.cinemanova.com.au

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