wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)
Powered by a terrific performance by Oscar Isaac as the titular character, the Coen brothers' latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, is about music, passion and the chase for success. A beautifully shot film with a terrific soundtrack, it isn't just a treat for the eyes and ears; it's a treat for the soul.Read more
How often have you heard someone say something to the effect, "Oh, but he's an artist. It's okay, they're just like that!"
Sometimes, an artist is seen through a slightly different moral prism than the rest; a struggling artist even more so. A folk singer in Greenwich Village, New York, Llewyn Davis isn't exactly the nicest man in the world. He frequently pisses people off, often takes those close to him for granted, and, sometimes, he also behaves in a manner that can cause him to be described as a particularly unpleasant bodily orifice.
And yet, in this beautifully atmospheric film by the Coen brothers - both, visually as well as aurally - you are drawn to him. He's down on his luck, and it seems to be getting worse by the passing day. Forget about knowing where his next paycheck is coming from, the poor fellow doesn't even know where his bed for the night will be; and it's a 60s winter that seems particularly chilly.
Inside Llewyn Davis, the film, is like curling up beside a fireplace when it's snowing outside, with a favourite book for company. It's like listening to your favourite ballad on a rainy day. Most of all, especially for a wounded creative soul, it is like antiseptic-dipped cotton; you're not sure if it's hurting you or healing you.
When an artist displays or performs an expression of his or her creativity for the first time in front of an audience, the time interval between the end of the performance and the first reaction of a viewer is like an eternity for the artist. That moment, which seems to last forever, is what the Coens capture so beautifully with Inside Llewyn Davis. And they do so while also making you smile almost throughout.
How much can a person be pushed? How much failure can he or she take? How difficult is it to hear someone tell you that you aren't good enough? And worse; what if you start believing it yourself? The answers to these question depend on the individual, but they evoke universal emotional responses. Treated the way the Coens usually do, with their dark humour and visual flair, it's like you're on a road trip with Llewyn, and you just want it to last forever.
You feel for his music; the pain is all there. Luckily, the film treats us to full songs, mostly performed by the protagonist himself. And what a soundtrack the film has! Calling it soul-stirring would be the most understated cliché in recent times; the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack is a haunting little gem.
Prior to watching the film, I was a little disappointed that the Coens' usual cinematographer, Roger Deakins, wasn't shooting this film. However, Bruno Delbonnel, who the Coens' have teamed up with this time, doesn't make you miss Deakins once through the entire film. Gorgeously shot, the film creates and maintains a melancholy mood throughout, with a dull green colour tone that alternately makes you feel the warmth of yellow and the cold of blue.
It helps that Oscar Isaac is perfect as Llewyn Davis. He creates a character so endearingly flawed that you want to give him a hug for just being. Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund make memorable little appearances, big or small; but the most impressive supporting act of the film comes from an adorable little cat.
Joel and Ethan Coen have, for me, one of the best filmographies in cinema. What's heartening to see is that their films seem to be getting more intimate, now, without losing out on what makes a Coen film in the first place. For me, personally, Inside Llewyn Davis struck home; because, as long as you have a sense of humour about it, there's nothing quite like the inside of an artist's head.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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