Cannes 2013: Coen Brothers Strike The Right Chord With Inside Llewyn Davis

llewyn 1Peter Willis reports from Cannes for Bleeding Cool.

Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Llewyn Davis features Oscar Isaac in the title role, a folk musician struggling to make ends meet in 1961. Davis has found himself at a crossroads in life, facing problems not only with making a break in the music business but also in his personal life, as his couch-hopping lifestyle puts strain on the relationships he relies upon to get by.

We are left in no doubt that Llewyn has talent. This is very much set in stone with a rousing opening sequence as he performs at a basket house in New York’s Greenwich Village. But it soon becomes clear that he is far from being the only talented folk performer of the day and, left as a solo artist following the death of his partner Mike, Davis struggles to make the breakthrough he desperately seeks.

As the film goes on, we follow a week in the life of our dejected and often belligerent protagonist. While it’s often a very sombre affair, an uplifting soundtrack and moments of genius comedy make this anything but the dull and depressing picture that it could have been in someone else’s hands.

The acting is terrific throughout, with Oscar Isaac carrying the weight of the whole movie on his shoulders and delivering with perfection a performance that struck just the right balance of melancholy and humour. John Goodman provides an equally bright turn in one of the smaller parts that, between them, really give bring the film to life

This isn’t a classically Coenesque movie, perhaps. At times it’s very different to their previous work, but there are moments that remind us that it is very much their picture.

One thing I wasn’t bargaining for was the additional acoustics that came courtesy of the Salle du Soixantième theatre itself. Built 6 years ago to celebrate the Festival’s 60th Anniversary, the Soixantième is a semi-permanent structure (it certainly isn’t made out of bricks and mortar, anyway!) with a tendency to be somewhat susceptible to the high winds rushing in off the Côte d’Azur. Yesterday these winds found their way through a vent and created a whistling noise that was a most unwelcome distraction. Towards the end of the movie the winds evidently had picked up further, offering a drum beat as the theatre’s tarpaulin battered again the structure. Perhaps this percussion was what Llewyn Davis needed to finally make his break in the music industry.

And it was straight back in to the Salle du Soixantième for Blind Detective, screening out of competition from veteran director Johnnie To.

Johnston is a former police detective, still highly talented despite losing his sight after becoming blind while on duty. He continues to solve cold cases for the police, picking up bounties to earn his living. During an investigation he encounters Ho, a young officer quickly rising the ranks but lacking the thoughtfulness of Johnston, who she hires to help her find a long lost childhood friend.

Movies at Cannes often cross genre boundries in a heartbeat, but none more so than Blind Detective. A murderous thriller, outrageous slapstick comedy, romantic love-triangles, drama. It has it all. And this is before you get to the cannibalism and mutilation.

Throughout we are taken back in time as Johnston attempts to act out and think his way through to solving the crimes; often inexplicably, but amusingly, finding the answer. These flashback moments were vividly and smartly shot, slapstick hilarity juxtaposed against a backdrop of increasingly sinister and blood drenched crimes. The ease at which the film interlaces the past and the present is genuinely brilliant and honestly impressive.

The sound dubbing was at times horrendous, though. Although I naturally was following the subtitles, the lack of sync between what was being spoken and the sounds heard felt amateurish in a movie which actually featured so much polish elsewhere.

Although a sprawling cross-genre movie, the story is actually wafer thin, with numerous pointless segments (inparticular an explicable 10 minute sequence following “Grandma”) and repetitive humour, which sometimes make Blind Detective somewhat of a drag.

As I sat here writing this report in the Cannes press room, ahead of a screening of Takeshi Miike’s Shield Of Straw, drama unfolded as two birds managed to fly inside. Fortunately no bird shit found its way onto the rather swish HP all-in-one computers and order was restored as a French journo took matters into his own hands, catching the birds and letting them out to safety.

Sounds like a metaphor for something, Peter? – Brendon. We look forward to your next report.

You can follow Peter on Twitter.

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