Category Archives: Roman Polanski

Roman Polansky, Carnage: The Idiocy of Adulthood

Roman Polanski’s Carnage was released in Moscow on December 8, 2011 (one day before my birthday). For those who follow Polanski’s work it is interesting to note a slight shift in his focus in the recent years. The range of themes he covered with his films knows little exception. There were freaks and misfits (The Tenant, Cul de Sac), power struggles (Macbeth), psychic disorders (Repulsion), games with the Devil (Rosemary’s Baby, The Ninth Gate), not to mention a good crime story (Chinatown) or a family drama (Bitter Moon, Knife in the Water). However, since The Pianist Polanski’s attention shifted towards “deeper” societal issues: survival (the theme of The Pianist, yet Oliver Twist explores generally the same topic, based on the life of a child), political games (The Ghost), and now, the process of making politics (Carnage). In spite of this shift, Polanski is far from being an outspoken political film maker: he weaves mystery (The Ghost) and humour (Carnage) skillfully into the story, and this is precisely the reason why both his latest films are more real in their depiction of what goes on in the world of politics, than any other political thriller.

On the surface, Carnage is a study of two pairs of parents who one day got together to discuss the incident between their children. It is generally assumed that parents need to discuss their children in the absense of children. Kids don’t usually understand whatever is going on in the world, so it is the adults who have to make good for them.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse: the innumerable attempts to hide personal problems, family problems, despise, distrust, while simultaneously trying to save one’s face and to maintain the bourgeois status quo. Uncomfortable truth comes to surface: nobody is as good as they’d like to be seen. Zachary’s father (Christopher Waltz) is a 24/7 lawyer who seems to never get off his phone; his wife (Kate Winslet) is an investment broker who doesn’t particularly like her husband’s preoccupation with work; Ethan’s father (John O’Reilly) sells toilet systems and hates small pets, like hamsters; and his wife (Jodie Foster) is a wannabe writer, working on a book on the Darfur crisis and absorbed by problems in Africa.

This is the story of one’s inability to withdraw from the conflict (Zachary’s parents continuously agree to go back to the apartment where they’re once more lured into a dispute over their son); of one’s preoccupation with problems beyond their reach which helps to reaffirm one’s importance and goodness; of one’s lack of will to stand their own ground; and importantly, of the ability to blow an incident out of proportion. All these (in)”abilities” lead to criminalising a person, even a child; and they also help to understand how wars are being waged. It’s not merely because two parties are infinitely opposite and don’t want to find the common ground, and don’t understand each other. They simply don’t listen. Each party only knows one truth, and that truth is usually connected to a host of other factors that just cannot be abandoned. And so, Zachary falls short from being qualified as a juvenile criminal, “armed with a stick”, while hamster is gloryfied as a sort of martyr at the hands of a cruel toilet seat seller…

…as it happens, while parents are talking politics, their children already play together, and hamster is happily engorging on the grass in the heart of New York City.

This is the second time Polansky adapted a stage play to screen (previously it was Death and the Maiden). Written by Yasmina Reza, this is a “comedy of no manners”, but in modern world when politicians and plebeians both use Social Media to foster their agenda, everyone is has a role in this comedy. Everyone is concerned about not losing their face, secretly hating another party, and being wilfully oblivious to the existence of other facts.

Above all, everyone who gets involved in this, has no sense of humour. This is why Paul Arden in his book, God Explained in a Taxi Ride, says that, had the world’s best comedians and stand-up artists been called to discuss politics, they’d never wage a war – their sense of humour wouldn’t permit them to choose the means of action prefereed by “serious people”. The problem is, adults are expected to be “serious”; you cannot be kidding when you already have kids and carry the whole world on your shoulders. As a result, there are wars, hatred wrapped in diplomacy, that fight for an assumed wellbeing of a hamster, having little to no idea about its real needs.

A couple of words about actors. John O’Reilly may not be the usual leading man in Hollywood but in Carnage he shines. At times he will remind you on his Cellophane Man from Chicago, with his open-heartedness and readiness to please. When you don’t see his name in the list of “stars” on IMDb.com, you actually feel sad. Jodie Foster is brilliant at playing someone for whom Jane Fonda’s political exploits could indeed be an inspiration. Kate Winslet is so fully “in” her character’s shoes that she effortlessly goes from a subdued to active involvement in the scene. Christopher Waltz keeps more or less on the sideline until the finale, but his is irreplaceable support of the story dynamics.

Roman Polanski, Ssaki, and Le Sacrifice Commercial by Stella Artois

Roman Polanski’s 1962 short Ssaki is a Surrealist tale of co-operation and compassion. The two characters (Henryk Kluba and Michal Zolnierkiewicz) wander across the snowy wonderland. We don’t know where they are from, or where they are going to. Initially they have a sledge and they drive one another in turns; then the sledge is stolen, but the spirit of camaraderie never fails them as their journey continues. Polanski who co-wrote the film and directed it received two awards, one at the Cracow Film Festival, another at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival.

As I was watching Polanski’s short, I couldn’t help recalling this famous Stella Artois commercial, Le Sacrifice. The legacy of Surrealism is hard to overestimate, with its absurd and eery landscapes and rooms inhabited by clowns and phantoms.

Roman Polanski’s ‘Carnage’ to Open 49th New York Film Festival – indieWIRE

Roman Polanski’s ‘Carnage’ to Open 49th New York Film Festival – indieWIRE

by Brian Brooks

The North American premiere of Roman Polanski’s latest film, “Carnage,” will open the 49th New York Film Festival September 30th, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which produces the anticipated annual event, said Friday.

Based on Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” the 2009 Tony Award-winner for Best Play, “Carnage” follows the events of an evening when two Brooklyn couples are brought together after their children are involved in a playground fight. Produced by Said Ben Said, the Sony Pictures Classics release stars Academy Award winners Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz and Academy Award nominee John C. Reilly.]

(continue reading at indieWIRE).

 

Roman Polanski – When Angels Fall (1959)

I have recently discovered one of Roman Polanski’s earliest works – it is a 1959 short, Gdy Spadają Anioły (When Angels Fall). You may already notice his interest in the neurotic, the funny, the dramatic, the humble. 20 minutes encapsulate the last day in the life of an elderly woman who works as an attendant in the male toilet. The male characters that come and go intercept with her recollections of life before and during the war.

The film was directed and written by Polanski; the script was based on a short story by Leszek Szymański, “The Toilet Granny“. The old woman was played by Polanski himself – an early experiment for the actor-director that would culminate in Le Locataire (The Tenant). While the Polish forum discussion has described the film as “simply poetry”, the IMDb.com reviewer goes further, citing Paul Tillich’s “you find God only after you have lost all“.

For me, it was a discovery of Polanski’s shorts. I have seen all his features (up to The Ghost, I must admit), including a weird erotic comedy Che? with Marcello Mastroianni. When Angels Fall was also Polanski’s graduate work, which he had to make “complex” to show his directorial prowess. Although it is described by some viewers as “pretentious”, I do find it lingering, dramatic, and thus successful.

As for the meaning… The old woman is often described as someone who keeps recalling her lost hopes and dreams. Strictly speaking, as we can see from flashbacks, there were hardly many hopes and dreams. There was love – first for a man, then for her son, both of whom perished at war. Rather than a story of a loss, this is a story of endurance, of survival that likely hinges on the fear of suicide supported by the thought that everything in this world is God-given, and when the day comes, each will have their worth. Angel falls in the guise of the woman’s son. Whatever life she may have endured on Earth is fully compensated for by a union with her son in heaven.

The ending is unclear, at least to me. It may be that the entire film is a kind of “last day” in the life of the toilet granny. Or it may be that each day she survives on her memories, and by the evening she is visited by her angel (the son) who grants her relief from the day’s work.

My Saturday Music: The Pianist – Chopin’s Ballade no. 1 in G Minor op. 23

I watched The Pianist either shortly before or shortly after Adrien Brody and Roman Polanski had won at the Oscars. A few years later, in 2004, I watched the film on the big screen during the U.K.-wide retrospective of Polanski’s work that was then visiting Manchester’s Cornerhouse. The scene in the video is one of the most poignant in the story and in the film. Regarding the story, this is a dim in colour and sound, yet emotionally vibrant music which many themes seem to highlight the experience of a man’s and his spiritual survival in the war-ridden country. Chopin composed this Ballade during his early years in Paris in 1835-1836, and its structure and time signature seemed controversial, or deviated from Chopin’s other works. Performed in the cold, empty room, at the request of a Nazi officer, this music becomes the symbol of victory of Art that supports man’s spirit through all hardships.

As for the film, Brody’s performance reaches its pinnacle here. One cannot help thinking, though, that in order to bring out the best in ourselves we should aim to find the means to work with the best, prolific, demanding people out there. When Polanski received his Oscar as the director, he did so also as someone who made a young actor take his skill to a level that probably well exceeded the actor’s experience. Thankfully for Brody, he was ready to take the challenge.