By Mike Collett-White
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - He may have been absent, but Roman Polanski made his presence felt at the Venice film festival on Thursday with his comedy "Carnage," in which Oscar-winner Kate Winslet's projectile vomit prompted the biggest laugh.
Some of the adaptation of Yasmina Reza's stage comedy "The God of Carnage" was written by the Franco-Polish film maker while he was under house arrest in Switzerland last year.
The 78-year-old behind the classic "Chinatown" was freed after Swiss authorities decided not to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 in Los Angeles.
Unsurprisingly, Polanski was not on the Lido waterfront to present the world premiere of his latest picture, one of 22 in the main competition lineup in Venice.
But three of the four cast -- Oscar-winners Winslet and Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly were at the annual cinema showcase to promote the movie.
Jodie Foster, a two-time Oscar winner, rounded off the cast, but did not attend the press conference in Venice.
Polanski set the comedy of manners in New York but filmed it in Paris, and would have been warmed by the loud applause after a press screening which elicited plenty of laughs.
Winslet, playing investment broker Nancy Cowan, won the biggest cheer for her on-screen vomit, an experience she later described as "hilarious.
"It was absolutely hilarious shooting the vomit sequence," the actress told reporters.
"We were all completely beside ourselves with laughter. I had to contain a lot of vomit in my mouth which is not possible for a person to do. So without going into too much detail, it was a fairly complex rig and there was some extremely clever CGI involved.
"My kids came to work ... for the vomit day and I'm so thrilled that they were there because they literally haven't stopped talking about it since."
Waltz, who plays her attorney husband Alan, added: "It needs to be said that the vomit was prepared according to Roman's recipe."
Power couple the Cowans visit the home of liberal writer and campaigner Penelope Longstreet (Foster) and her down-to-earth salesman husband Michael (Reilly) after their children are involved in a brawl.
What begins as a civilized exchange about the incident turns into an increasingly passionate sparring match between the two couples and later between the men and women.
Drink, and relationship problems buried deep, mean cruelty rises quickly to the surface, although comedy is never far away.
Alan Cowan's Blackberry, for example, never stops buzzing, and he constantly interrupts conversations in order to deal with a crisis at a drug firm he represents.
"The majority of the time we didn't feel like, 'well that was certainly funny'," Reilly said. "These people are meant to be going through somewhat of a traumatic experience with each other, so the comedy would come later."
Shot in a single apartment in real-time, Carnage feels like watching a play on the big screen, which some critics faulted. But the general reaction at the press screening was positive.
Winslet said her experience as a mother helped her understand the situation of the families.
"Being a parent myself I'm familiar with school playground politics and how complex that can be and sometimes how ridiculous that can be and funny," she said.
On starring in a Polanski movie, she replied: "When Roman Polanski invites you to join him in any project, you really don't say no."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)