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Roman Polanski: After Confinement, a Movie Set in One Room

Roman Polanski, no matter how you feel about him, is one of our great directors. From “Rosemary’s Baby” to “Chinatown” to “Tess” to “The Pianist,” he’s made a significant and lasting contribution to cinema. Now, after his famous home imprisonment, Polanski decided to film the Broadway play “God of Carnage.” He’s turned a two act play into a 79 minute film about claustrophobia. “Carnage” opened the New York Film Festival on Friday night with stars John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster present, and Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet absent. Also absent, of course, was Polanski, who will probably never be allowed to enter the United States again as long as the farce in the Los Angeles court system continues.

I had the good fortune to sit next to Angelica Huston during the screening; she’s an old friend of Polanski although she said she hasn’t seen him in years. Otherwise, the opening of the Film Festival was not particularly star studded. Indeed, after last year’s “Social Network” premiere, this was kind of an odd choice–two stars only, and only one of them–Reilly–mixed with the after crowd at the Harvard Club. Foster remained aloof in a second floor room, and left early.

“Carnage” is a solid effort, but I wonder who will see it. If it’s Polanski’s musing on being locked up, it works. (This is a common theme in his films–think of “The Pianist” or “Rosemary’s Baby.”) The two couples in “Carnage” are trapped by their own volition in a small but extremely well decorated Brooklyn apartment. Reilly and Foster are hosting Waltz and Winslet, whose child attacked theirs with a stick. Now the two “pc” couples are trying to come to terms with a sort of surrender between the playground antagonists. Reilly, picking up the role James Gandolfini played on Broadway, steals the movie. Kate Winslet comes in second. Waltz, fresh from “Inglorious Basterds,” is still new to everyone, but boy is he good. He has the delicious part of a lawyer who is always on his cell phone, is completely self absorbed. Only Foster seems a little out of place, extremely strident and shot especially badly.

By the way, getting from Alice Tully Hall to the Harvard Club in a driving rain wasn’t so easy. There were no cabs, but plenty of well heeled, well dressed types hailing them in vain. Our friend (writer for this site sometimes) Regina Weinreich had a great idea. “Let’s take the bus,” she said. An M5 bus pulled up in front of Alice Tully. A gang of us clambered on and headed downtown from 65th and Broadway and 44th and Fifth. The bus driver looked surprised to see the formally attired, especially those of us who actually carry MetroCards!