Dec 6, 2013


From my Guardian review:—
'I do like the Coen brothers’ wintery ones. Anyone who thinks composition is a purely visual matter should re-watch Fargo, which happily inverted the old film noir tradition which says kidnappings and extortion should come wrapped in expressionistic shadow. Instead, the film pitched daylight robbery against a blinding white tundra — film blanc — with particular attention paid to the way the Minnesota winter obliterates the horizon line. The characters just seemed to hanging there twixt land and sky, like Bellow’s dangling man, caught between two voids, unsure which way is up. The Coens’ collaborators are said to feel much the same way.  The snow that covers much of Inside Llewyn Davis is another matter again: it’s the kind of old, grey city snow that stains brown from car exhaust, and gets into your boots on the long trudge home. We can be even more precise that that, I think: it's the kind of snow you see covering the East Village street walked by Bob Dylan, arm-in-arm with Suzy Rotolo, on the cover on Freewheelin’, as dawn breaks at behind them. Inside Llewyn Davis is set in the days preceding that dawn. It is 1961 in New York and all over the village, cafes are sprouting folk singers, chins are sprouting beards, and Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), at something of a loss after the other half of his double act jumped from the George Washington bridge, is doing his damndest not to sell out, while stifling his howls as contemporaries are signed up all around him 
That Davis doesn’t suck the film under — and what ultimately rights the film’s entire leeward tilt — is simple: songs, eight of them, most of them folk standards rearranged by T Bone Burnett. Inside Llewyn Davis is not a musical, with everyone bursting into song when the mood takes them. The opposite:  When Davis sings, he does so because the plot requires it, for an audition, or in the car to pass the time, and frequently after he has taken a particularly bad beating. That makes it almost an anti-musical, with the hero opening his lungs, not in happiness, but pain. The entire film seems to hold its breath for Isaac’s pure, clear, plaintive voice.  The Coens could easily have taken this in the other direction, and rendered Llewyn talentless — the trailers play impishly with this possibility — but instead they tack towards a more Withnailish  paradox: if only the universe could stop oppressing Llewyn and listen to him then it would hear how beautiful it’s oppression is making him.But of course that would undo the whole magic. It’s fascinating to hear such an argument for authenticity from the Coens — kings of the unashamedly inauthentic and ersatz.   Inside Llewyn Davis is an exquisite objet d’art, beautifully photographed by Bruno Delbonnel, who desaturates the colors and reproduces exactly the silken grays and tobacco-stained whites of old Ektachrome. The plot, for all its pointlessness, has an elegant nautilus structure that spirals back to the beginning with one tug. If I were a Freudian I would be tempted to speculate that the brothers are feeling a little blind-sided by their lionization, post-Oscars, even annoyed about it, and that Llewyn Davis is their spectral alter-ego, summoned like Banquo’s ghost to remind them of what might have been — or replenish them with a reminder of their once-outsider status.  Maybe that’s why the nostalgia feels so piquant.' 

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