Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

I discontinued updates on my mobility after my fracture, when I decided that these were really only of interest to me (like a lot of the stuff I write about I suspect). However, going to see the above film was actually something of a landmark. It's the first time I've been able to get to a cinema under my own steam since FrightFest at the end of August. So that was something of a red-letter day for me -- and I shall now cease and desist with all things medical.

This Coen Brothers' film premiered at Cannes to great critical acclaim and I was eagerly looking forward to viewing it. By and large I have really loved most -- but not all, let it be said -- of their movies and their quirky takes on various genres. Only their re-make of the "Ladykillers" really disappointed me and I'm not too fond of their Clooney/Zeta Jones farce either, but they can normally be counted upon for providing something rather special. I therefore wish that I had warmed more to this latest flick which is being promoted in the ads with adjectives like 'charming', 'delightful', and 'amusing'. It is nothing of the kind, but rather a somewhat bitter look at the latest in their catalogue of losers.

Oscar Isaac plays the eponymous hero, although 'hero' is too strong a word for the sorry fellow. Llewyn is a minor folk-singer, hoping to forge a solo career after the suicide of his former partner. Isaac possesses a more than pleasant voice and makes a good fist of recreating the folk scene in Greenwich village in the late 50s/early 60s. In fact the whole period and shades of the legendary Dave van Ronk are beautifully re-created by the Coens, with indeed some affection for its passing. We see how popular groups like the Clancy Brothers clones on display need make way for new (and more profitable) talents like Bob Dylan. It is clear from the start that Llewyn, as embodied by Isaac, is never going to quite make it. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence, bumming a night here and there on acquaintances' couches. As his sometime-friend Carey Mulligan (who he may or may not have impregnated, despite her being the partner of another friend, Justin Timberlake) comments, "You're like King Midas' idiot brother" -- meaning that everything he touches turns to something far more base than gold. Llewyn is an anti-hero firmly set in the Coens' galaxy of life's failures. It's a folk tale about a folk singer, a minor talent doomed to be left by the wayside, bound to fail in a world full of nobodies. The moral being that talent and hard work need not breed success. To make matters worse, Llewyn does not even come across as a likeable chap!

Yet there is something about this movie that is captivating and I suspect that it may well be worth watching a second or third time. The real star of the movie and the best thing in it is a ginger cat that Llewyn finds himself lumbered with after it escapes from a professors' apartment where he has spent the night. He loses it, searches for it, eventually returns it for the best line in the film (it was the wrong sex puss), and finds himself looking after another unwanted moggy. You might say that the movie is something of a shaggy cat story, as the cat becomes a companion on Llewyn's fruitless odyssey. Incidentally the first cat manages to find his way home and it turns out to be called Ulysses. (Yes, the Coens do have something of a 'thing' about The Odyssey). The film does have shades of a mythic, never-ending circular structure, as it starts and finishes with the same scene of Llewyn being beaten up in an alley by an unknown assailant. It seems that he is doomed to plod on the perpetual treadmill of despair.

While nicely cast, there are few familiar names among the players; but some mention should be made of Coens' regular John Goodman. In a few brief but amusing scenes he plays a drug-addled bluesman, half asleep on the back seat of a shared-expense road trip to Chicago, where Llewyn hopes to impress impresario F. Murray Abraham (no soap!). Goodman manages to throw out a number of caustic remarks, belittling Llewyn even further, about folk-singing, Welsh people, and even the best bridge for committing suicide. There's just no hope for our hopeless protagonist.

Some people think that this film was 'robbed' by not receiving Oscar nominations in various categories. I'm not too sure that any would have been deserved given the competition this year. Even the only original song in the movie (the others were all lesser-known traditional ones cleverly culled by T-Bone Burnett), the vaguely amusing "Please Mr Kennedy" did not come across as a suitable contender.

Before closing I must mention a timely oddity that I viewed yesterday courtesy of German satellite TV, "Das Weisse Stadion". Made in 1928 as a homage to the winter Olympics that year in San Moritz, the film was believed lost until 201l, when it was reconstructed from various sources. Lovingly and poetically filmed, it recreated a long-gone world. Did you know that the winter games used to include such competitions as horse-racing on ice or horse-drawn ski- racing? There were also some charming exhibitions of skating prowess, including one from Sonja Henie who went on to Hollywood fame. Great stuff!
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