Audience patience undergoes a far more brutal butchering than anything onscreen in Delphine Gleize’s wildly over-reaching feature debut, “Carnage.” Journeying into prime Almodovar territory with a wannabe-“Magnolia” multi-story ensemble drama, the pic invests heavily in meticulously designed visuals during its self-consciously enigmatic exploration of themes that touch on everything and nothing. But as the writer-director, an acclaimed French short-film helmer, attempts to corral the unwieldy elements into some kind of whole, the pretentiousness and preposterousness of the arcane exercise becomes increasingly offensive.
The two key elements are young moppet Winnie (Raphaelle Molinier) in northern France, who imagines a world in which she’s dwarfed by animals; and a bull killed in the ring in southern Spain, whose carcass is trucked to the abattoirs and body parts are distributed to various characters.
These include the comatose matador (Feodor Atkine), gored by the defunct beast and in need of a liver transplant; Italian actress Carlotta (Chiara Mastroianni) selling its bones in a supermarket promotion; a Spanish woman (Angela Molina) dining on toro en rioja and hiding a dark secret from her youth in France; Winnie’s parents, whose gift of a bull bone to their Great Dane proves fatal; and a philandering taxidermist (Jacques Gamblin), whose wife delivers quintuplets after secretly undergoing fertility treatment and whose brother has parricide plans.
Culminating laughably with Carlotta joining a philosophizing ice skater (Clovis Cornillac) for a performance piece in the ring, the drawn-out, self-important film has each of the unengaging characters entering some kind of personal arena and emerging to learn something about themselves. But basically, this is an elegantly packaged load of old bull.