Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake
Plot: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
Genre: Drama / Music
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize (Cannes). Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing.
Rating: NC16 for language including some sexual references.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
"If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it's a folk song."
The cat in Inside Llewyn Davis has been mentioned, either in passing or scrutinized in detail since the picture’s release. I shall weigh in a few thoughts on my side. The cat is an enigma, a mystery that simultaneously holds the key to ‘understanding’ the film, and also prevents it from being understood. But at least, the movie (and the cat) can be appreciated. Because one doesn’t really need to comprehend the mysteries of life to appreciate life.
The Coens’ latest continues their track record of being one (or two) of contemporary American cinema’s most consistent and original filmmakers. Inside Llewyn Davis is their most soulful effort to date. And it recreates the 1960s New York folk music scene with a wave of both nostalgia and authenticity. Oh my… that mournful mood.
It is a mood that is best essentialized in two breathtaking scenes of simple beauty – a casual café performance of the folksy 'Five Hundred Miles' sung by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, and a shot of Oscar Issac in a cold, foggy night trying to hitch a ride along a busy freeway. The Coens have created a visually arresting picture with hues of gloomy grey in one of the rare occasions that they did not work with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins.
It will be terribly ironic if Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, 2001; A Very Long Engagement, 2004) wins an Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work here. Those familiar with Deakins' unjustly woeful track record at the Oscars for the last two decades, and his fruitful and artistic collaboration with the Coens will best appreciate this irony. But with Lubezki’s breakthrough work in Gravity (2013) still resonating very well, it is almost certain that the Best Cinematography award will go to the sci-fi picture.
Sorry I digressed. Let’s get back to Issac. He is the focal point. It is his story. Or is it the cat's? Either way, it is fascinating. He gives a broodingly excellent performance as Llewyn Davis, a (fictional) struggling folk singer-guitarist who is short of cash and perhaps short in confidence. This is as much a film about music (not a musical!) as it is a road movie.
There is an interesting scene where Issac's character nearly runs over a cat on an isolated road, thus slightly injuring it. He sees it struggling to move, seemingly impaired... in what I think is a symbolic reflection of Llewyn Davis' fate in the folk music scene. Kudos once again to the Coens for giving us this underrated gem, which might just be their finest work of the 21st century so far, alongside No Country for Old Men (2007).
Verdict: A soulful effort from the Coens with a broodingly excellent performance by Oscar Issac.
*Last viewing Aug 2017
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