Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

FOCUS

Video: Milan is starting point for Syrian refugees’ European odyssey

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

Terrorist ransoms: Should governments pay up for hostages?

Read more

ENCORE!

Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche star in 'Clouds of Sils Maria'

Read more

WEB NEWS

India: journalist launches "Rice Bucket Challenge"

Read more

WEB NEWS

Russian aid convoy: Mission accomplished?

Read more

WEB NEWS

Actor Orlando Jones lauches 'Bullet Bucket Challenge'

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'Macron Economics'

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Macron-economics, the former banker turned minister

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'The capital of sex, drugs, alcohol, trash and trashy tourism'

Read more

  • UN probe accuses Syrian regime, militants of ‘crimes against humanity’

    Read more

  • France’s Hollande puts young ex-banker in top economy post

    Read more

  • Video: Iraq’s Yazidis flee to spiritual capital of Lalish

    Read more

  • Video: Milan is starting point for Syrian refugees’ European odyssey

    Read more

  • Liberia sacks ministers who left amid Ebola outbreak

    Read more

  • Airstrikes and Assad - Obama’s military conundrum in Syria

    Read more

  • IMF’s Lagarde investigated in French corruption case

    Read more

  • American journalist held captive in Syria arrives in US

    Read more

  • In pictures: The ministers in France's new government

    Read more

  • 'Lasting' ceasefire agreed for Gaza, Abbas says

    Read more

  • Far-right ‘Russian Jihad’ fighters cross into Ukraine

    Read more

  • American 'Islamic State fighter' killed in Syria

    Read more

  • The ‘war’ at the heart of France’s ruling party

    Read more

  • Rebels 'shoot down' UN helicopter in South Sudan

    Read more

  • Air France pilots threaten September strike

    Read more

  • WHO seeks stricter regulation for e-cigarettes

    Read more

Culture

'Inside Llewyn Davis' finds Coen brothers at their best

© Studio Canal

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2013-11-05

Joel and Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis" (out in France this week), about a folk singer in 1960s New York, ranks with the filmmakers’ greatest achievements. After its prize-winning run at Cannes, the movie is a contender for the Oscars.

Abdellatif Kechiche’s lesbian romance “Blue is the Warmest Colour” took Cannes by storm in May, dazzling critics, snagging the top award and continuing to dominate headlines with behind-the-scenes drama in the weeks leading up to its US release.

But there was another masterwork unveiled at the festival, though it made fewer waves: Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis”, which deservedly took home the second-place Grand Prize and is set to hit French and US cinemas in the coming weeks, before making its way to the UK early next year.

A gorgeous, razor-sharp deadpan comedy suffused with sorrow about a struggling folk singer in early-1960s New York, the film is considered a strong contender for the Oscars.

I’m not an unconditional fan of the Coens, who sometimes treat their characters with smarter-than-thou condescension that can make their films feel like cold, hermetic exercises in irony (“Burn After Reading” is a prime example, and their 1991 Palme d’Or winner “Barton Fink” isn’t far off).

But their new movie ranks with their very best (“Fargo”, “No Country for Old Men”, “A Serious Man”) in its nearly pitch-perfect balance of biting satirical humour and deep reserves of feeling.

The film’s protagonist (played by singer-actor Oscar Isaac in a star-making turn) embodies the tricky duality of cruelty and tenderness that makes “Inside Llewyn Davis” such a treat. Navigating his mess of an offstage life -- couch-hopping, mooching, and wrangling with his scam artist manager and another folk singer who may or may not be carrying his child (Carey Mulligan, radiating fury tinged with longing in a marvellously vivid comic performance) – Llewyn Davis is a schlumpy, scowling grump. But when he performs (glorious folk tunes arranged by T-Bone Burnett and sung live on set), revealing a honeyed, slightly raspy voice, his face mellows, his eyes close, and he seems to be opening his soul to the world. This jerk’s music is his redeeming feature.

Indeed, the folk songs in “Inside Llewyn Davis" (even the ones the filmmakers mock affectionately), with their yearning lyrics and melancholy melodies, don’t just offset the dry, classically Coen-esque wit of the screenplay; they give the movie a rich emotional subtext, allowing the characters’ often laugh-out-loud gripes, swipes and one-liners to echo with hints of regret and desire.

As Llewyn Davis fights to kick-start his floundering career, scrape together money without sacrificing his ambitions, get along with the people in his private and professional lives, and keep track of a cat he inconveniently finds himself caring for, we come to understand that the movie is a comedy about loss and letting go -- of an artistic partner, a love interest, a childhood dream.

Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver offer stellar support

As usual, the Coens find a fitting visual match for their themes: cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel uses wintry whites, greys and browns, and repeated shots of hallways, long subway cars, and empty stretches of highway suggest the title character’s existential anxiety.

Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake in "Inside Llewyn Davis" (Studio Canal)

Such images feel just right for a film that’s not only a meditation on art, failure, responsibility, and self-acceptance, but also a portrait of a specific American cultural moment -- at the start of the Vietnam War -- when young people were facing stark choices of identity and values.

Along the way, “Inside Llewyn Davis” features one of the most sublime sequences the Coens have ever shot, involving a snowy highway in the middle of the night, that pesky cat Llewyn looks after, and a snippet of opera playing on the car radio.

The film also flaunts a uniformly superb ensemble, with Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Jeanine Serralles, Max Casella, Stark Sands, F. Murray Abraham, Robin Martlett, and Adam Driver (of hit HBO series “Girls”) delivering jewel-like supporting performances.

The holiday movie season is just getting underway, but as of now, “Inside Llewyn Davis” ranks as one of the very best films of 2013.

A version of this article appeared as a blog post on France24.com during the Cannes Film Festival in May.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” comes out in France on Nov. 6, the US on Dec. 6 and the UK on Jan. 24.

Date created : 2013-11-04

  • CINEMA

    New film takes satirical aim at French ex-PM Villepin

    Read more

  • OBITUARY

    Lou Reed’s epic contribution to cinema

    Read more

  • CINEMA

    Palme d’Or winner Kechiche pens scathing op-ed

    Read more

COMMENT(S)