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Composed composure. (Click to enlarge.)

My father says “Marry someone you can live with, not one you can’t live without.” The quartet of characters in Roman Polanski’s new film could certainly have benefited from that advice. Over a single afternoon, the pleasantries between them rapidly erode until each pair of spouses turn on each other. In the meantime, their respective sons, about whose altercation the meeting ostensibly was in the first place, seem to operate according to a separate social dynamic as they wordlessly fight then make up in two simple long shots that bookend the film in a manner reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s more opaque, yet equally vicious, Caché (2005).

Polanski’s previous film blew me away (if you recall that film’s final shot, I apologize for the pun), and this one is just as impressive, though for completely different reasons. The film is a virtuoso exercise in choreography and cinematic blocking, and Polanski makes meticulous use of his frame (both cinematic and architectural) and props (a bowl of tulips, coffee table books, a cellphone, a cake — or is it a pie? — and the bucket of vomit it ends up as) as they morph from fetishes to weapons.

Along with his production designer Dean Tavoularis (of The Godfather) and cinematographer Paweł Edelman, he casts his characters in a game of checkers, as they quite literally revise their positions on themselves and each other, mounting tactics of defense and strategies of attack. As midday takes a near-realtime journey into evening, we witness the couples’ devolution from prim New Yorkers into Darwinian primates, as each character brings out the worst in (but also perhaps the true nature of) the others.

Polanski massages highly mannered performances from his cast (who play characters desperately performing idealized versions of themselves) as their masks fall to reveal the disingenuousness that lies underneath. Ultimately, the most dishonest of the lot seems to be the most genuine and hence the least changed in the end. In the process, the room increasingly constricts around the ensemble as reflections abound and soft daylight quietly loses out to harsh tungsten, cutting sharp edges across their faces.

Polanski wisely makes no attempt to expand his source material beyond the confines of a residence and its hallway, and with the exception of the aforementioned bookends, we remain as confined to the apartment as our characters. His Buñuelian conceit is that none of the characters can bring themselves to leave without first achieving closure. Needless to say, the result is that, as in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols, 1966), they sadomasochistically relish in the fact that any true consensus on what constitutes closure remains tantalizingly out of their reach.

However, unlike Mike Nichols’ landmark chamber piece, this film offers no chance at affinity. Polanski uses his characteristic distancing devices to ensure that we feel nothing for these characters but contempt. His camerawork arcs from static and composed through steadicam to handheld, all too faithful to his characters’ mounting desperation and failing sobriety, and at key moments is punctuated by choice use of distorting wide angle to underscore sudden bursts of slapstick. As in his much earlier (yet I would argue very similar) masterpiece Repulsion (1965), Polanski borrows heavily from absurd theater, skirting the edges of sympathy or even empathy, and allowing us instead to maintain our critical distance secure in the assumption that we’re better than the haywire specimens on display. His masterstroke is that eventually we realize, of course, that those were the exact holier-than-thou delusions which brought the characters into that room in the first place.

And in the end, we are left with a sticky tangle of relationships and a lingering question: OK, so now what?

Rating 9/10

Directed by Roman PolanskiStarring Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz

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Rahayu November 20, 2015 at 7:13 pm

”A grand jury decided to chagre him with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor.””In an effort to preserve the child’s anonymity, Geimer’s attorney was reported to have helped arrange a plea bargain which Polanski accepted, and, under the terms, five of the initial chagres were to be dismissed.””He pleaded guilty to the lesser chagre of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse, a chagre which is synonymous under Californian law with statutory rape.”η τυφλή κυρία είναι και λίγο περίεργη όταν (τότε) για να κρατήσει ανώνυμο το θύμα μετατρέπει ένα ποινικό αδίκημα άλλου είδους σε ένα σαφέστερα ελαφρύτερο αλλά ”ηθικά” διαφορετικής φύσης.αν δεν υπήρχε η διασημότητα τώρα δεν θα μιλάγαμε για τον Πολάνσκι, θα είχε διαγραφεί από το χάρτη…


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