Err, well there’s not much more to say beyond the headline if I’m honest. Yep, the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis won the second place prize Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. The prize was picked up the movie’s lead actor Oscar Isaac as our favourite brothers had to leave to go back to New York. The coveted Palme d’Or went to French film, Blue Is The Warmest Colour.
Posts tagged ‘cannes film festival’
The Hollywood Reporter’s review;
The Coen Brothers’ competition film starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake presents an outstanding fictional take on the early 1960s folk music scene.
Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” easily could have been about the parasitic, untrustworthy, unreliable, moderately talented screw-up at the heart of the Coen brothers’ enthralling Inside Llewyn Davis. Set in, but not comprehensively about, the Greenwich Village folk music scene circa 1961, this is a gorgeously made character study leavened with surrealistic dimensions both comic and dark, an unsparing look at a young man who, unlike some of his contemporaries, can’t transcend his abundant character flaws and remake himself as someone else. Closer to some of the Coens’ smaller films such as Barton Fink and A Serious Man than to breakouts including O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men, the French-financed CBS Films pickup nonetheless is a singular work by the protean filmmaking team.
Although played out to some extent in the clubs on Bleecker Street during a period that has acquired legendary status, the idiosyncratic original screenplay is far more concerned with the title character’s neuroses, aggravated lack of self-awareness and inability to turn his limitations to his artistic benefit. And while music permeates the film, viewers expecting a film a clef featuring lightly fictionalized versions of embryonic music all-stars will have to make an adjustment.
Like Bob Zimmerman, the Coen brothers were born and grew up in Minnesota and moved to New York City. Drawn to the milieu that attracted the musical poet but resisting the obvious temptation to make a film about him, the Coens have created a fictional character who could be said to be the guy who did not become Dylan but could have — save for some crucial talent and character issues. These are amusingly but more often cringingly illustrated in the course of the film, a strange odyssey that continually keeps you off balance as it darts and careens down assorted desolate streets and dark alleys of the human condition.
One’s natural instinct to be drawn to a story’s leading character is dashed here in a manner so merciless as to push into darkly comic sadism. A gorgeous opening scene at the Gaslight Cafe, where Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) sings a bleak song about being hanged, abruptly is followed by Llewyn getting the crap beaten out of him for reasons the singer doesn’t understand.
Still, no amount of personal misfortune can explain or justify why the 30ish Llewyn, whose good looks are undercut by a general dumpiness, treats his friends so shabbily. A running motif is his constant need for a place to crash; an unabashed starving-artist type, Llewyn bounces around between the apartment of Columbia scholars the Gorfeins (Ethan Phillips, Robin Barrett); a room at the home of his resentful sister (Jeanine Serralles); a sofa at the Village pad of singer Jean (Carey Mulligan), who’s furious at him and is going with her musical partner Jim (Justin Timberlake); and any other likely suspect, such as singer Al Cody (Adam Driver), a big-city Jew affecting a cowboy persona.
Explicitly presented but not discussed, the Jewish involvement in the music scene is highlighted in a way that cannot be ignored and constantly echoes the satirical tone of the brothers’ splendid A Serious Man, which also centered on a man who gets little other than bad news. The worst comes from Jean, who justifiably shrieks at him for the carelessness that got her pregnant (she actually isn’t sure who the culprit is) and demands he arrange an illegal abortion for her. Not even a cat is safe in Llewyn’s care; asked by the Gorfeins to tend to their tabby, the schmuck lets him escape, prompting some agonizing chases through town involving outstanding direction of a feline.
But the work’s core and most brilliant filmmaking, as stunning and singular as anything in the Coens’ canon, is embodied in what initially feels like a tangent that, among other things, can be viewed as a deadpan satire on the whole “on the road” ethos of the period, right down to the casting of Dean Moriarty himself, Garrett Hedlund, as the mostly mute driver on a hitchhiking trip Llewyn makes to Chicago. With John Goodman’s sarcastic raconteur Roland Turner splayed across the back seat like a malignant combination of Henry VIII and Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, the trip proceeds into a surrealistic twilight zone. Although not decisive, the trip does present the artist with a defining moment the viewer is free to ignore or accept as the truth about what’s “inside” Llewyn Davis.
Visually, the Coens get along fine, thank you, without their habitual cinematographer Roger Deakins, as Bruno Delbonnel creates a succession of lustrous images. The Coens and their executive music producer T Bone Burnett have dug deep to create a fresh, resonant folk soundtrack.
Faced with playing a man one would learn to steer clear of in real life, Isaac deftly manages the task of making Llewyn compulsively watchable. The one question some might be left with is, why are we watching the story of a loser instead of a winner? But part of the point is that often there’s but a hair’s-breadth difference between the two.
Another wonderfully positive review, this time from Variety.
The sounds of the early 1960s folk music revival float on the air like a strange, intoxicating perfume in the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a boldly original, highly emotional journey through Greenwich Village nightclubs, a bleak New York winter, and one man’s fraught efforts to reconcile his life and his art. A product of the same deeply personal end of the Coens’ filmmaking spectrum previously responsible for the likes of “Barton Fink” and “A Serious Man,” this darkly comic musical drama with an elliptical narrative and often brusque protagonist won’t corral the same mass audience as “No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit.” But strong reviews — for the pic itself and its stupendous soundtrack — should make this December release an awards-season success for distrib CBS Films.
As they did with the 1940s Hollywood setting of “Barton Fink,” the Coens have again taken a real time and place and freely made it their own, drawing on actual persons and events for inspiration, but binding themselves only to their own bountiful imaginations. The result is a movie that neatly avoids the problems endemic to most period movies — and biopics in particular — in favor of a playful, evocatively subjective reality. Perhaps most surprising to some viewers will be the pic’s surfeit of something the Coens have sometimes been accused of lacking: deep, heartfelt sincerity.
Where Clifford Odets provided the inspiration for “Fink’s” eponymous playwright, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) has been similarly modeled on the late Dave Van Ronk, a mainstay of the ’60s New York folk revival whose vaunted reputation among musicians never translated into the commercial success enjoyed by many of his contemporaries. Like Van Ronk, the pic’s Davis is a guitar-strumming balladeer whose repertoire consists mostly of vintage American roots music of the sort catalogued by musicologists John and Alan Lomax as they traversed the southern U.S. One such tune, the haunting “Dink’s Song” (aka “Fare Thee Well”) becomes the pic’s melancholy refrain in a version purportedly cut by Davis and his former partner, Mike (British musician Marcus Mumford), before the latter’s suicide rendered Llewyn a solo act.
This is how we first see Llewyn, lost in song onstage at MacDougal Street’s Gaslight Cafe circa 1961 — the year that a certain freewheeling tumbleweed from Minnesota would turn up on the folk scene and throw the doors open wide. But for the time being, Davis barely ekes out an existence from a cut of the door and the kindness of friends with sofas. Upon leaving the Gaslight for the night, he is confronted in the back alley by a shadowy figure who cold-cocks him for no (immediately) apparent reason.
From there, the pic adopts the odyssey narrative the Coens have employed on several previous occasions, most notably “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” though the tone here is more Joycean than Homeric. Waking up on what seems like the next morning in the apartment of a Columbia U. professor friend, a disoriented Llewyn pulls himself together and sets off on the long subway ride back to the Village — but not before accidentally letting out the pet cat. For the remainder of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” this uncooperative animal seems to be leading Llewyn from one strange adventure to the next, like a beatnik Leopold Bloom on the trail of a feline Stephen Dedalus.
If his music career is dangling by a thread, Llewyn’s personal life qualifies as an outright shambles. The sort of person who expects others to support him but rarely returns the favor, the commitment-phobic singer practically has a VIP account with the local abortionist, and may be back again after learning his brief fling with married folk singer Jean (Carey Mulligan) has resulted in another bun in the oven. Like most of the pic’s cast outside of Isaac, Mulligan has relatively little screen time but makes the most of every minute, as does Justin Timberlake as her oblivious nice-guy husband (and singing partner), Jim.
What’s a starving musician to do except keep gigging? So Llewyn drifts along, sitting in as a session musician on Jim’s novelty record “Hey, Mr. President” (the pic’s lone original song) and, in the movie’s surrealist centerpiece, traveling to Chicago in the company of a drug-addled, partly paralyzed blues man (a cross between Doc Pomus and Dr. John) played with magnificent, scene-guzzling brio by John Goodman. But the Windy City brings only wind, snow and an impromptu audition for a storied club owner and manager (an excellent F. Murray Abraham) which, in anyone else’s movie, would be the moment when Llewyn is finally discovered and can start paying the rent. Instead, he merely returns to Coenville and to pushing his boulder up life’s steeply angled hill.
Yet for all the pain in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” there is also abundant joy — the joy of the music itself, exquisitely arranged by T Bone Burnett and sung live on set by the actors themselves. Both dramatically and musically, the film excels at depicting the many varied styles that wound up grouped under the folk umbrella — from corny, Kingston Trio-esque harmonists to protest singers like Pete Seeger and self-proclaimed “neo-ethnics” such as Van Ronk. In keeping with the Coens’ interest in matters of Jewish cultural identity, the pic also touches — but never dwells — on the folk scene’s abiding spirit of self-reinvention, which allowed a Jewish doctor’s son from Queens to become the singing cowboy Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (a model for the movie’s Al Cody, played by Adam Driver).
Above all, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a revelatory showcase for Isaac, who sings with an angelic voice and turns a potentially unlikable character into a consistently relatable, unmistakably human presence — a reminder that humility and genius rarely make for comfortable bedfellows. Tech contributions are outstanding on all counts, especially the wintry, desaturated lensing of Bruno Delbonnel (pinch hitting for usual Coen d.p. Roger Deakins) and the inspired period detailing of production designer Jess Gonchor, whose bygone Greenwich Village abounds with cramped cold-water flats and Kafka-esque hallways narrowing toward infinity.
Inside Llewyn Davis, the new film from Joel and Ethan Coen, is a hymn to squandered potential, missed opportunities and unsung genius. That’s a subject far removed from the experience of the Coens themselves, who, since the release of their debut feature Blood Simple in 1984, have had critics and audiences yodelling enthusiastically of their brilliance.
Well, at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday night, the yodel went up once again. The Coens’ new picture is a perfectly pitched melancholic comedy set in the New York City folk music scene of 1961. It has an acidically funny Kafkaesque streak that recalls the brothers’ 2009 coming-of-age drama A Serious Man, although it is more of a piece with their 2000 masterwork O Brother, Where Art Thou?, from its magpie borrowings from Homeric myth to its seriously groovy soundtrack. Their film strikes the near-impossible balance of being uproarious entertainment in the moment and a profound philosophical treatise in retrospect, and you drift out of the cinema on an intensely weird cloud of existential angst and toe-tapping acoustic guitar music.
Oscar Isaac stars as Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer who plays thinly attended gigs at The Gaslight Café, a club in the city’s West Village. But despite his low profile, he is extraordinarily talented, which the Coens establish in a blissful, pared-down opening sequence in which he performs the old Dave Van Ronk number ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’.
Llewyn is effectively a Bob Dylan manqué, right down to the familiar Welsh twang of his name – and the film goes on to suggest that, with a little more luck and slightly better timing, he might have won the Dylanesque degrees of success and acclaim that he so hungrily craves. Instead, he sleeps on friends’ sofas, tramps the cold streets of Manhattan without a sensible coat, and treats other performers at the club with florid contempt. Two of them are Jim and Jean, a singing duo (and married couple) played by Justin Timberlake and a hysterically irritable and flossy-haired Carey Mulligan. Early in the film, Jim wins Llewyn a session gig on a novelty record called ‘Hey Mr Kennedy’, and the song exudes so much guileless joy it raised a cheer at the critics’ screening.
An odyssey of sorts unfolds when an audition takes Llewyn west to Chicago, and he hitches a ride with an ogreish jazzman (John Goodman) and his beat poet ‘valet’ (Garrett Hedlund). Later, the return trip involves a heartbreaking decision about which fork in the road to take. Throughout his journey, we increasingly feel that Llewyn is trapped in an unwinnable game of catch-up with fate, and the sense becomes so gnawing that it threatens to take off your leg. An ingenious running joke about a runaway cat hints that a more conventionally heroic narrative may be unfolding elsewhere: meanwhile on-screen, the New York streets look as grey as gravestones, and a chill wind tickles almost every shot. This is instant A-list Coens; enigmatic, exhilarating, irresistible.
Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian, has reviewed the Coens’ latest, Inside Llewyn Davis and given it 5 stars saying that the brothers have “hit it out of the park” and that the movie is “an intense pleasure this film is, one of the Coens’ best, and the best so far at Cannes.” To say it’s one of the Coens’ best is quite the claim and it has me very, very excited to see it! However it’s not out here in the UK till 24th January 2014! France are getting it first on 6th November and it’s out in the US 20th December.
Now that is has shown at Cannes, I’m sure reviews will be popping up just about everywhere, YKFK will do our best to update the site as and when we find them.
Here’s the full text of The Guardian’s review;
Cannes audiences just heard a clean, hard crack: the sound of the Coen brothers hitting one out of the park. Their new film is brilliantly written, terrifically acted, superbly designed and shot; it’s a sweet, sad, funny picture about the lost world of folk music which effortlessly immerses us in the period.
The musical interludes are stunningly achieved: a pastiche chart single about President Kennedy and the moon mission brought the crowd I was among close to bopping in the aisles. This has something of Woody Allen movies like Sweet and Lowdown and Broadway Danny Rose; there’s a playful allusion to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and even a weird casting echo of Walter Salles’s On the Road — and this movie is incidentally everything that dull film wasn’t. But it is through-and-through a Coen brothers film, as pungent as hot black coffee.
Inside Llewyn Davis recounts a desolate week in the life of a fictional singer-songwriter of pre-Judas folk music in early-1960s New York: Llewyn Davis — a quietly angry, depressed and penniless young man, dragging his guitar from apartment to apartment, sleeping on couches, annoying everyone, unsure whether to continue in a world that does not understand him, and preparing to abandon his dream and returning to work in the merchant marine. There comes a time with any artist, when failure has become too painful and losses have to be cut. Has that time come for Llewyn Davis?
He is played with cool, shrewd, watchful restraint by Oscar Isaac, with longish black hair and an unkempt beard, looking for all the world like a young Martin Scorsese. The name “Llewyn” with its Welsh associations, of course deftly brings the word “Dylan” into our minds, although the question whether Llewyn is supposed to be a specific fictional variant of the great troubadour is resolved in the final moments. It could also, at a second subconscious remove, suggest the doomed figure of Dylan Thomas, who succumbed to celebrity and hard liquor in the United States.
Llewyn has been attempting a solo career, having just split from his performing partner, with whom he produced a poignantly unsuccessful and heartrendingly entitled LP, If I Had Wings, and the well-observed cover design is a joy, although the Coens are not looking for big laughs, like Spinal Tap or the folk spoof A Mighty Wind, but elegantly asserting design mastery, allowing us to savour how their exterior shots of New York do look exactly like these LP covers. Now he has a record of his own, Inside Llewyn Davis, unsold copies of which take up a big heavy cardboard box in his agent’s office, a box he is brusquely invited to take away with him. Again the title is ironic: these moody opaque songs don’t get us anywhere close to being “inside” the singer’s mind.
He has a tense relationship with a successful folk duo, played by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, and strikes up a quick friendship with another would-be folk star, Al Cody, gloriously played by Adam Driver, whose booming single notes during the “Hey Mr President” recording session make that scene such comedy gold. Llewyn figures he might be able to make an audition in Chicago, and to that end shares a car with a smoulderingly Kerouac-y poet, played by Garrett Hedlund and a pompous jazz musician played by John Goodman with a habit that keeps him detained a long time in the men’s room.
The film has some classic Coen tropes: wide establishing shots of eerily empty spaces and interiors with receding perspective lines, deadpan faces, querulously bespectacled old ladies and the mandatory old guy in a semi-darkened office. But the authorial signature is not quite so emphatic as of old, and the Coens treat themselves to a lot of straightforwardly funny lines.
Ultimately, the heartrending thing about Inside Llewyn Davis is its meditation on career success and career failure, and the unknowable moment when the one turns into the other. The Coens allow us to be unsure about the point of Llewyn’s music: is it obviously brilliant and destined for success? Or is the point rather that he is talented, but not in a way that guarantees triumph? Llewyn is at least partly depressed about the way mediocrities do well in this world: silly singing acts in cable-knit sweaters. He could just be ahead of his time, but will the imminent arrival of Bob Dylan mean that his kind of difficult music will finally get what it deserves? Or just consign him even more brutally to an honourable second place? The intense sadness that permeates every chord and every note of his music, could be a desperate requiem for his own dreams, his own musical career. What an intense pleasure this film is, one of the Coens’ best, and the best so far at Cannes.
According to movie font of all knowledge, the IMDB, one Katherine Borowitz is to appear in the forthcoming A Serious Man as a character called Mimi Nudell. Using my rules for the Family Tree section of YKFK an actor must have appeared in at least two Coen brothers movies and Borowitz’s previous appearance was in 2001’s Palme D’Or winner- The Man Who Wasn’t There as Big Dave Brewster’s (James Gandolfini) wife, UFO conspiracist and future department store heiress, Ann Nirdlinger. To jog your memory here’s a pic…
My copy of Empire (July 2008) arrived today and the first article in it (after the reader’s letter page) is a four-pager on the Coen’s next movie, Burn After Reading. It confirmed the UK release date of October 17th and also contains five new images which I will scan in and post on YKFK in the next few days. Here is the text from said article lovingly transcribed by yours truly…
“After the (relative) seriousness of No Country For Old Men, it seems the Coens are back to more traditional turf for their next. It’s a thriller that’s kind of a comedy (or the other way around) born of one of their own brainstorming sessions (and not a famous novel), where the characters go by such typically syllable-torturing Coen-esque monikers as Harry Pfarrer, Linda Litzke and Chad Feldheimer.
“It’s in the vein of Fargo and Lebowski,” delights Eric Fellner from Working Title, completing his sixth film with the brothers. “Somebody comes across something they shouldn’t, they completely misinterpret what they’ve got, and because they are fairly stupid, everything spirals horribly out of control. Mayhem and dead bodies ensue.”
More precisely, it is a spy caper about boozy CIA operative Ozzie Cox (John Malkovich), so incensed at being fired he writes some inflammatory memoirs, the disc of which he accidentally leaves in a gym. It is discovered by less-than-intellectual instructor Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), who attempts to blackmail Ozzie, while his boss Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) meets smooth-talking Harry Pfarrer (George Clooneey) via online dating. He’s the CIA lug assigned to clear the whole matter up, who also ends up sleeping with Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), estranged wife of Ozzie.
“I’m a guy that goes around killing people,” says Clooney, who would happily play a corpse for the Coens. “It looks really fun. This will be my third idiot – the Coens call it my trilogy of idiots.”
Shooting with typical zest (taking only 50 days) between No Country’s debut in Cannes 2007 and its rapturous US release last autumn, the New York boys stuck fairly close to home: Brooklyn Heights and Washington, DC are the main locations. And despite regular cinematographer Roger Deakins missing his first gig since Barton Fink (due to prior commitments) – Emmanuel Lubezki (Children Of Men) replaces him - the production ran as smoothly as ever.
“They are so brilliant, Joel and Ethan, they just know what they want,” continues Fellner. “Most of the techs and craftsmen have all worked with Joel and Ethan many times. There is never a panic on set. You are never running out of time.”
However, the film, which will open this year’s Venice Film Festival (it wasn’t ready for Cannes 2008), finds its makers at something of a crossroads. Does the Oscar victory and box-office success of No Country For Old Men (a best ever $160 million worldwide) mean they are now a mainstream act and no longer the clever-cloging wiseacres only deciphearable by their army of delirious fans?
“That is the issue – how do you sell the Coens?” agrees Fellner. “Our experience at Working Title is that the point where we’re made mistakes is when we’ve not sold the film to the real audience. You have to start with the real audience and then go bolder. With some of their recent films made with studios (Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers were both studio-based films not produced by Working Title) , that could be where they went wrong: looking for too big an audience. This is quite mainstream, but not too mainstream.”
The Coens have been very busy of late. They will soon start another comedy, A Serious Man (also with Working Title), which Ethan has claimed will be ever-so slightly autobiographical: “It’s about a family of four in the Midwest, in 1967, and one of the kids is about to be Bar Mitzvahed. Horrible things happen…” After which they will get going on an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a couldn’t-be-more-Coens noir pastiche set in a reimagined Jewish state in Alaska. Meanwhile, Ethan has also found time to write a trilogy of short plays currenlty being staged together off-Broadway under the title Almost An Evening, produced with the help of Coens’ regular composor, Carter Burwell. The plays, one of which involves two opposing versions of God having a scrap, are helpfully described as Camus-meets-Kafka-meets-the Marx Brothers. Definitely not too mainstream.”
So there you have it. I found this article to put my mind at ease about their two next projects, both of which I’m looking forward to temendously, especially The Yiddish Policemen’s Union which, like the article says, is perfectly suited to the Coen brothers. If you haven’t read the book yet, I cannot recommend it enough.
No Cannes glory for the Coens this year. No Country For Old Men was in competition but did not win. The Palme d’Or went to Romanian abortion movie 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Julian Schnabel won the best director award for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Cack! Disappointing AND we have to wait months to see the movie! Boo! Oh and if anyone responsible for the official Cannes Film Festival website is reading- you should be ashamed of yourself, the site is terrible.
So the Coens new film, No Country For Old Men, was shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival this morning and the notices are coming in and, for the most part, they’re raves! Brilliant news, follow the links to read them for yourself and if you spot anymore let me know and I’ll add them;;
“Midway through, I had this down as the brothers’ best film since The Big Lebowski. By the end I was wondering if it might not be their masterpiece.”
“A scorching blast of tense genre filmmaking shot through with rich veins of melancholy, down-home philosophy and dark, dark humor, “No Country for Old Men” reps a superior match of source material and filmmaking talent. Cormac McCarthy’s bracing and brilliant novel is gold for the Coen brothers, who have handled it respectfully but not slavishly, using its built-in cinematic values while cutting for brevity and infusing it with their own touch. Result is one of the their very best films, a bloody classic of its type destined for acclaim and potentially robust B.O. returns upon release later in the year.”
“Drenched in blood and featuring gory scenes that will tax even some of the hardest stomachs, No Country For Old Men is a film so good it really hasn’t sunk in yet: in years to come people will look back and say, oh man, why don’t they make ’em like THIS any more? “
“With no sign yet of an undisputed classic in competition at this 60th Cannes, No Country for Old Men may have emerged as a frontrunner for the trophy Joel and Ethan Coen collected for Barton Fink in 1991. “
“Audiences will flock to see a mainstream Coen Bros. film with such a colourful villain, but word-of-mouth about its fizzled conclusion may to damage at the boxoffice.”
“The Coens are able with their distinctive filmmaking skills to transform McCarthy’s rich, wry, resonant, and often humorous storytelling into a bravura movie, based on striking images, crisp dialogue, darkly humorous tone, and splendid acting from all around. “
No Country For Old Men is showing in competition at Cannes on Saturday 19th May at 11.30. Let’s hope it wins!