Friday, December 25, 2009

The Case for Seriousness

The Coen brothers have had a glorious movie history. The JudgeNot the NotKate, a big fan (who has beat me to a review on her blog, in her speedy, efficient and insightful way), reminded me of some of their greatest hits: O Brother Where Art Thou?, the Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men. And so, fire fuelled by the reminiscences of amazing movies past, we settled into the Bergman theatre to watch their latest offering, A Serious Man.

The film is beautifully crafted. Every scene (except the opening subtitled scene that had me thinking I had perhaps wandered into a film on Jews in Europe in the Middle Ages) drips with 1960s memorabilia, every house and building looking new yet similar, in a very plush and orange and patterned way. The actors are just amazing, engrossing in their neuroses and character quirks and stereotypes.

The film is pitched as being completely unlike anything No Country for Old Men, and this is correct, except one should not be under the illusion that this is a happy film. Sure, there are moments of comedy as the Serious Man’s life starts to spiral out of control, but the spiral is relentless and pretty soon I was left feeling a bit uneasy.

It’s a very good film, but in the uncomfortable, depressing way that Mary and Max was a good film. The moments of humour are small rays of sunshine in a film dominated by brooding rain clouds. A Serious Man could well have been called Murphy’s Law, as calamity upon calamity befalls the main character, and he is left standing in the middle of a whirlwind of events that are beyond his control, with the local Rabbis unable to really help him understand why all this is happening to him.

At the end of the film, I kind of waited nervously for the NotKate’s reaction, and there was a slight pause before she delivered her qualified response. I think we agreed it was a technically brilliant film, but were less certain about the merits of the storyline (check out her view of it here). This is perhaps another movie that one should watch with a positive frame of mind from the outset.

Verdict: An incredible cast do amazing things with beautiful work by the Coens, but overall A Serious Man's story is of limited appeal - perhaps why it was banished to the Paramount. I am not quite sure to whom I would recommend this film, apart from Coen fans, but I do acknowledge its artistic merits. 6 degrees of seriousness out of 10.

1 comment:

Not Kate said...

That's about right :)

I was thinking that maybe because of its exaggerated level of bleakness, the whole thing is funny... but in an awkward chuckle kinda way.

Kinda: 'Wow... could this get any worse??? Oh... yes it could! Heh!'

It's taken me years to really understand what black comedy is.

And you're right - the actors were all really good. Some of them incredibly annoying, but very well done.