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Inside Llewyn Davis by Joel and Ethan Coen

February 28, 2014


Who is Llewyn Davis? We meet him on the stage of the Gaslight Cafe in 1961, he is a folk-singer who after his act is over will be punched in the face by an unknown menacing guy dressed in black in the alley at the back of the renowned folk music venue, when we see this scene we don’t know why Llewyn is getting hit, but during the course of the film we will make knowledge with his artistic shortcomings and his unfriendly personality and maybe we will develop the urge to punch him in the face. Riddles are an essential part of every film by the Coen bothers and Inside Llewyn Davis makes no exception: the folk scene was thriving in 1961 but they decide to bring to life a loser and not a beautiful one, Llewyn seems to have in high regard his own artistry and disregards most of his musical companions but when we see them performing … well, their act (a surprising Justin Timberlake deserves to be mentioned) looks much better than Llewyn’s; but the main riddle of the film and its core narrative point is the loss of Mike, Llewyn’s artistic partner who – we are told – has killed himself jumping off Washington Bridge, so what do we have here? a successful artistic duo who tells the story of a guy who seems condemned to failure because he has lost his partner.


What does it mean to be a performing artist is certainly a central theme here – the film’s disillusioned view of the music business is quite blatant – but I’d say the main point of this story is a young man who doesn’t know what to do with his life, Joel and Ethan Coen avoid the easy trap of letting him to renounce his career and to choose a normal life – we know he is not going to Akron, no matter how long Llewyn spends looking at that exit, that’s not the kind of thing happening in a Coen film – and Llewyn’s inability to get recognition (to find his place in a world where he has put his name on two records but the only guys who know who he is are the ones who connect Llewyn’s name to his father) is made worse by his unwillingness to compromise. It is uneasy to relate with a character like Llewyn – this Welsh name sounds quite appropriate for the guy – and the rest of the cast suffers insufficient development – Jean (Carey Mulligan) and Joy (Jeanine Serralles) Llewyn’s friend and sister respectively – as it is usually the case with female characters in the Coen’s films and then we get the usually overblown role played by John Goodman. The photography by Bruno Delbonnel is fantastic, especially the scenes on the highway which have a menacing and realistic feeling of metallic hostility; the Coen work again with T Bone Burnett but is is hard to imagine a renewed O Brother, Where Art Thou? effect here.

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