Roman Polanski has always been kind of a funny guy.
Maybe he’s not always funny in the conventional making-everyone-laugh sense, but at the very least funny in the odd, off-the-map, Fargo -descriptive kind of way.
But a strange thing happens about five or ten minutes into his latest offering, Carnage Polanski actually gets all-out, deeply awkward yet justifiably hilarious, funny.
Obviously there’s more to Carnage than laughs, but from a filmmaker whose sense of humour has traditionally skewed towards the sinister, it’s perhaps the most surprising element of the film.
The latest in one of cinema’s most diverse and troubled (both on screen and off-) filmmakers should be celebrated for its levity, its timing, the stunning single sequence both Polanski as director and co-author and Yasmina Reza as co-author and playwright are able to draw out of the unique situation they place four seemingly rational adults in.
The scenario unfolds as follows: One child strikes another with a stick in an after-school confrontation. The parents (one set played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly and the other by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz all of whom are exceptional) convene to decide how best to follow up the incident with their children both separately and jointly.
The quick summit between the parents drags on, and on, and on, until the four have unravelled what each previously perceived about both themselves and the others trapped (figuratively?) in the apartment.
Oh, and there’s a cobbler.
In an age when so many filmmakers are stumbling by trying to do so very much, Polanski goes micro. He placed his trust in fabulous source material and even better actors and ““ in a flash ““ created something more lasting, vibrant, original, slightly sinister yet genuinely funny. Something a lot of his peers would otherwise be incapable of.
This, to many cinephiles, will come as no surprise since Polanski is a filmmaker who has very few true peers. Perhaps none at all.
This is likely why TIFF has chosen the release of Carnage as an opportunity to pounce and launch its own retrospective, Roman Polanski: God of Carnage featuring seven of the Polish auteur’s works.
The retro leans heavily on his early films ““ titles like Knife in the Water , Repulsion , Cul de Sac , Chinatown , Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant ““ and offers an excellent look at the work of a visionary who was haunted by his own sinister and checkered past. It also spans his foremost filmmaking years, before his period of exile brought on by being found guilty of rape in 1977.
The films all feature the unsettling paranoia that served as a base for his narratives for so long and should serve as a handy launching pad for the unfamiliar to delve deeper into Polanski’s oeuvre, should they desire.
Polanski’s later works, in fact, may be a closer relative to what makes Carnage work so well. The claustrophobia (that he exploited initially and expertly in Repulsion ) that fosters the laughs in his newest film fostered much darker and stranger results between the mid-70s ( The Tenant ) and throughout the 80s and 90s ( Death and the Maiden and, to a lesser extent, The Ninth Gate ).
The retrospective does also include Polanski’s critically-acclaimed (yet tragically under-seen) 2010 offering The Ghost Writer , which serves as a nice book-end, encompassing Polanski’s more epic leanings of the new millennium.
Of course, a retrospective on any filmmaker who has been creating fine cinema for over 50 years won’t be able to offer up everything, but the selection TIFF is presenting is certainly a good start.
The Roman Polanski: God of Carnage retrospective begins December 17 exclusively at TIFF Bell Lightox. Carnage opens in theatres December 16 and begins its engagement at TIFF Bell Lightbox on December 30.