Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Poster

 

Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

As a Coen Brothers film, I don’t think Inside Llewyn Davis has their iconic sense of humour; however it does seem to be on par with the development of their works.  In comparison to my personal favourite, Raising Arizona, it would be difficult to draw parallels between the two, you can’t really see the same auteur traits, however in comparison to their later films such as True Grit and A Serious Man, and you can definitely see the darker style and ambiguous almost dissatisfying ending.

Llewyn, not necessarily the most sympathetic character as critics are quick to pick up, is a struggling folk musician in 1960s New York. We follow his journey, both literally and metaphorically, to make a living out of his music, and to be able to live with his music.

We are introduced to fellow musicians, fans of the TV show girls will be thrilled with the appearance of the show’s Adam Driver, as well as the lovely Carey Mulligan playing Jean, of Jim and Jean, Jim being played by Justin Timberlake. However in this pair, it is Jean that steals the show, arguably the most sympathetic character, going through an extremely human experience. Had we sympathised with Llewyn, the audience may have found her character annoying and loud, however though her constant referral to Llewyn as “Asshole”, we find ourselves agreeing with her, and also being able to find laughter in her anger.

Although this isn’t my favourite Coen Brothers film by far, I have had the soundtrack on loop all morning. For a film about a musician, it achieves making the music the main character. It is different to other films in the way music is presented; it allows the music to just play. There’s no huge introduction to each song, there’s not a massive production, its natural and it flows with the narrative rather than interrupting it.

You cannot talk about Inside Llewyn Davis without mentioning the cat. The cat is, personally, my favourite character. The care that Llewyn gives this cat also adds a certain bit of humanity to his otherwise cold and quite careless personality. He goes through the film insulting other people, whether on purpose or otherwise. This cat almost redeems him from this through some part of the film.

The unlikable protagonist can be seen as typical of the Coens.  Their crime thriller Fargo arguably has little or no likeable characters, neither doe A Serious man, however it’s their ability to create real characters and still make the audience want to watch their films that show their distinct and incredible ability as film makers.

Compliance (2012)

Compliance (2012) Poster

Written & Directed by Craig Zobel

Craig Zobels “inspired by true events” Sundance film festival film stars Dreama Walker as an unfortunate fast food employee whose world gets turned upside down when a prank call leads to her 19 year old character, Becky, having the worst shift of her life. Although I am an advocate of no spoilers, I have to warn you that this film can be disturbing to some audiences, having watched it with my housemates and viewing the different shocked reactions, ranging from confused laughter to researching actual events, Compliance is not a film to be entered into watching lightly.

It can be quite a difficult film to watch at times due to Zobels choice in cinematic features. His choice to almost play out the events in real time means that you will need a lot of patience to watch this film, but it is worth it in the end, you truly feel the humiliation of Becky through the length of time she was put through this ordeal. The combination of long takes and revelation of the prank caller to the audience but not the characters gives that sense of dramatic irony, us knowing it is a prank call, waiting, wishing that they would just realise. I myself got really involved with the film. I think the fact that it is based on true events, makes it seem even more painful to watch but, as one of my housemates put it, you literally just can’t stop watching.

There are a few Kubrickian and Tarantino elements in it, but as a massive fan of both directors I seem to find that in everything. The opening credits of block capitals seems Kubrickian although can also be compared to the start of Cabin in the Woods, and the constant food shots reminds me of some Tarantino films, specifically the recent Django: Unchained. The food shots also prolong the film and humiliation, the constant reminder that this is all happening in the back rooms of a fast food restaurant just makes it seem even more … dirty. Although there is nudity there is nothing sexual about it, again this all adds to the humiliation we feel for Becky, and, although some sexual events are included in the story, nothing is shown, just suggested by innuendo shots to do with food and drink, they are so subtle and not absolutely necessary to the story ,at the time, as a more extensive explanation is given in an investigation part of the narrative at the end, to the point where one person I was watching it with actually asked aloud what was going on. It’s effective though, it gives those who are able to handle it the fuller picture and for those who aren’t, they can overlook it. I suppose dividing the audience into different character camps, those oblivious to the events like the manager and those who know full well what’s going on, like some of the other employees, allows us to know what the characters, outside the main story, are feeling. This is emphasised at the end where a televised interview is given, which I am guessing is a replica of a real one.

Throughout the film, us as an audience are asking “how can they believe this?”, “how did they not know?” which is exactly what the public asked. An explanation is almost given through the mention of the Milgram experiment at the start of the film. For those who didn’t do A Level psychology, it was an experiment in which the influence of an authority figure was tested on the participants’ willingness to inflict pain on other subjects. It has now since been deemed and unethical but gained the result of a majority being able to inflict pain if they are not directly responsible for it. This is explored through this film, and the real life result is scary.

My recommendation is to set aside some time to watch this film, you can’t really watch it half-heartedly. Compliance will no doubt give you food for thought for days and, disturbing as it is, this analysis of human compliance is a must watch for any film lover. The bold choices of Zobel in his topic for this film and expectations of his audience makes it not only enjoyable but slightly enlightening. You will come away from the screening with a lot more knowledge about human nature than, maybe, you would like to.

Suspiria (1977)

suspiria header

Directed byDario Argento

Written by Dario Argento & Daria Nicolodi

A film set in a German Ballet academy, directed by an Italian film maker and spoken in the English language is bound to have a mixture of influences, but what struck me about Suspiria is the cinematic influence it has had on many of my personal favourite films. Never has a film reminded me so much of so many others. The story, although long and a bit slow, is clearly a classic tale of good and evil, with an American student travelling halfway around the world to study her passion at a dance academy when some strange occurrences start happening . After a gruesome death reminiscent of the slasher genre, the story follows Suzy as she struggles to fit into the academy, whilst trying to ignore the signs of things not being quite right in her new residence. Inspired by such gothic stories as those of the Grimm Brothers, this film uses many horror conventions to send shivers down your spine.

Suspiria reminded me of some of its contemporary films such as Carrie (1976) with the significance of blood to the story as well as later films such as The Shining (1980) through the use of a red setting, like the blood red of The Shining’s Bathroom scene, and the red exterior of the academy in Suspiria, giving a bloody first impression of the place. This visual choice by Argento gives the ominous effect of the supernatural, making it seem as if the walls are dripping with blood, clinging to the setting as the centre of the haunting atmosphere. The cinematography and tinkling music in an interesting non dialogue scene where the blind piano player walks through the town is also reminiscent of the famous Tubular Bells walk near the start of The Exorcist (1973). The similarities extend to the foreboding elements that the two scenes suggest and the suspense, the waiting for something to happen, the tense atmosphere just waiting to be released through a scare or shock. This era of American cinema has to be one of my favourites, and this film fits so well into that category, amongst some of the best horror films of all time, it seems it’s only a matter of time until its remade by some Hollywood studio, as is happening to all truly great horror films, no doubt with Chloe Moretz playing a lead role.

To me it also seems to have influenced more modern films such as the quick editing style of Edgar Wright, the suspense caused by it, the almost waiting to be scared through contrasting this with long takes of the country side, again, waiting for something to happen. It also has such images as this …

… devil’s snare anyone?

Although not the most imaginative of narratives or endings (without giving too much away), the cinematography, editing and just composition of everything are amazing, I have never seen anything like it, never watched a film and been in complete awe of the visual aspects of it. The way everything is placed on the screen, how one shot suggestively slides into another, the narrative, which I always focus on, comes second in my eyes to this astounding artistic piece of cinema. There’s one particular shot in which a glass of wine is being drunk, the deep red matches the almost black background of the door, in deep focus, it’s like the wine is pouring into or away from it. There are so many shots like this; I’ll be amazed if you can’t find just one shot that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

There isn’t much focus on the dancing aspect of this film as it is a horror not a musical, but one of my favourite scenes is that of Suzy, dancing on point (dancing term for standing on the tips of your toes), feeling faint and staggering, still on point and then her falling from such a height. Seeing this from a high angle, the helplessness of her is presented. After which a close up on her face reveals pinky-red blood dripping from her nose. One of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. The utter helplessness of our protagonist fighting against the music to dance, a stark contrast with how the other girls are dancing, shows the significance of her to the story, her inability to fit in, to keep up could possibly save her.

It’s so difficult to explain just how enchanting the composition of this film is without watching it. So that’s my advice to you. Watch this film, guaranteed you will be as lost for words as I was when I first saw it, which Is why I took so long to write this review. It’s difficult to put into words just how chilling and mesmerising and tense this film is. Not necessarily scary but you will get a few jumps out of this, but mainly the effect of the film is the fear of the jumps that you Argento takes his time setting up. You will not be disappointed.