Movie Mondays: Chamber Films

~posted by Frank

You’ve likely heard of chamber music and chamber plays, but chamber films? Similar in principle to their counterparts, chamber films feature a handful of actors, primarily in a single location. Chamber films have been made for decades – think Rope, 12 Angry Men and My Dinner with AndreHere are four contemporary examples that fit the bill.

Adaptations of plays are good candidates for chamber films, and Carnage (2012), directed by Roman Polanski, is a fine example. Two sets of parents – Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly, and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz – meet at the formers’ New York City apartment to have a mature, civilized conversation about a fight involving their pre-teen sons. Boy, does it devolve. The couples argue with each other, and themselves, and their collective inability to let another have the last word keeps them going. It’s vitriolic and the characters are unlikable, but the claustrophobic setting enhances tour-de-force performances, especially for Foster and Winslet, earning Golden Globe nominations.

If Carnage is too nasty, try the gentle Lilting (2014). Richard (Ben Whishaw), devastated by the sudden death of his lover Kai, tries to connect with Kai’s mother Junn (Peipei Zheng) – who only speaks Chinese – through the use of a translator. Both mourn the loss of Kai deeply, and differently – Richard is emotional, Junn is reserved – and deep-seeded resentments are bubbling beneath the surface. When the translator becomes involved and tries to force the two to address the real issue – if Junn will accept that Kai was gay – things come to a head. Lilting is a moving, delicate piece of work about the barriers that prevent people from connecting to one another.

For a minimalist approach, consider Locke (2014). Tom Hardy is Ivan Locke, a London-based businessman who, on the eve of the biggest professional opportunity of his career, takes off in his car to attend to an issue that will affect his relationship with his wife and son. The entirety of the movie takes place in his car, and we watch him drive while he talks to a variety of people on the night that may forever change the course of his life. You’ll either find it riveting and intense, or boring and repetitive. I’m in the former camp.

Like Locke, All is Lost (2013) is a one-man show, but this time the action takes place on a boat. Robert Redford wakes up to find his boat is taking on water in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and without a radio or other technology frantically tries to save himself. He’s skilled and resourceful, but the elements and lack of resources are putting him to the test. Unlike the dialogue-driven Locke, All is Lost has virtually no dialogue – with no one to talk to, it’s simply man vs. nature. Despite that, it’s a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat ride.

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