Menaced by the pause

In Swiss cinemas, there’s almost always an intermission roughly halfway during the film. Doesn’t matter if it’s a three-hour epic or a blink-and-it’s-over chit of a comedy. Doesn’t even matter if it’s the remastered 2001: A Space Odyssey and five minutes after the cinema’s intermission (2001 – now there’s a true popcorn flick!) there’s the roadshow version’s actual intermission.

Even though I would consider myself a cinephile, I don’t hate intermissions with a vengeance. Sometimes I like having a moment to pause and think about what I’ve just seen; sometimes my bladder is grateful for them.

And sometimes they break a movie’s back, much like this:

I greatly enjoyed the first 50-60 minutes of Roman Polanski’s Carnage. The film was expertly paced, the casting near perfect (although I would’ve loved to see James Gandolfini in it), the performances strong, with just the right lightness of touch. I’m notoriously tricky when it comes to comedy, but I was laughing along with the escalating situation. And then came the break.

For all I know, without the forced interruption I would have stayed in the film. I would have enjoyed it to the end. As it was, the impetus was gone, and what remained felt clichéd, trite, predictable. Oh ho, neuroses and hypocrisy under a thin veneer of civilisation! Tee hee, the lawyer collapses when his mobile phone ends up in the vase! Giggle, snort, the wife breaks down in a sobbing wreck when her beloved handbag is thrown across the room, spilling its innards all over the floor.

Thing is, all of this – the clichés, the lack of any depth – was there in the first half… but as the film built up momentum, it felt like all of this was exactly to the point. Having had five minutes of ice cream ad projected at the screen and then to pick up where we’d left, as if nothing had happened? Carnage had turned from witty, sharp, light-of-touch comedy to leaden sitcom. The remaining 25 minutes felt longer than the almost-hour we’d already seen. Yes, it was still expertly acted, but to such obvious, hackneyed effect. Perhaps an earlier break would’ve been better, giving the film more of a chance to build up momentum again. I don’t know, but as it was I had seen two thirds of a smart, funny film, only to turn against it in the remaining half hour.

It’s difficult not to think of this piece of Zen wisdom:

P.S.: It’s difficult not to love Christoph Waltz’ performance in this, though, while disagreeing with him 99.9%.

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