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Carnages
cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Angela Molina, Jeanne Lucia Sanchez, Esther Gorintin, and Maryline Even

director: Delphine Gleize

130 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Patrick Hudson
Carnages follows the lives of a group of people all touched by the death of a bull in the bullring. The matador who fights the bull is mortally gored by it, and the bull is slaughtered and butchered. Different parts of the animal end up with different characters in the film's multi-stranded narrative.

To summarise: the bull's eyes end up in the fridge of an adulterous laboratory worker. An insecure actress gets a job dressing up in a flamenco dress and selling the bull's bones in a supermarket. One of these bones poisons a family dog. The horns end up with a reclusive taxidermist who lives with his elderly mother. The bull's ears are left under the matador's deathbed. The mother of an epileptic girl's teacher eats a meal made from the bull's meat.

All these lives touch each other in other ways, too, and Carnages is reminiscent of Magnolia or Short Cuts in the way that the plot strands resonate and interconnect. The stories are occasionally droll and usually a little dark, and focus on the emotional lives of the characters. There's a lot of talking and a lot of frowning in this film, which takes itself very seriously despite the occasional absurd flourish.

The characters all have a quirky touch; sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. The schoolteacher and her mother have a recognisably dysfunctional relationship, while the actress (played by Chiari Mastroianni, the daughter of Catherine Denueve and Marcello Mastroianni) and her ice-skating boyfriend just seem irritatingly wet. The epileptic little girl is maybe a little too cute (in a distinctively dewy-eyed Gallic way), while the story of the taxidermist and his mother rings true despite its peculiarity.

While well meaning and intelligent, and technically very handsome, Carnages fails to deliver much in the way of drama. There's a great deal of underlying tension, but the resolutions are slow moving and sometimes ambiguous. The actors do what they can, and the film is not without moments of beauty and pathos, but its slow pace seriously lets it down.

Carnages is the debut feature from a young French director, whose previous work has mostly been in short films, and this feels a lot like a series of short films interspersed with one another. Unfortunately, Delphine Gleize doesn't vary the tone sufficiently, which compounds the leisurely tempo, turning the film into a bit of a slog.
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