Satisfaction is indeed a lot sweeter after all the waiting. I’ve queued up for three screenings just to get into the new one from the Coen brothers, and finally managed to the fourth and last run during the festival circuit – and what a bliss it was. Inside Llewyn Davis is worth every second of loitering, every swearword I’ve cussed and all the pissed-off faces I’ve seen every time the festival bouncers turn away a horde of displeased members of la presse. This is the first film I’ve seen in the festival that exquisitely held me in full attention with barely any distraction, despite being in the least impressive theatre in the Palais (you can hear beach winds howling outside the Salle Soixantième), confidently swaying between screwball comedy and poignant character drama about someone who just can’t make it into the world of folk music and subsequently fail at everything else – except those moments when he opens his mouth, strums his guitar and sings. And boy, when Oscar Isaac sings (a wonderfully-pitched performance, by the way) – his Llewyn Davis become a figure of such existential pain and melancholy that no dialogue can match.
It’s a familiar premise, sure, but the Coens handle it with such sure-footed grace and nimble lightness that’s deceptive at first. Llewyn’s micro-journey around New York, couchsurfing between his friends and hitch a ride to a make-or-break audition seem straightforward and banal, but the banality and insignificance of failure at his every attempt to make things better is the film’s greatest arsenal. Whether losing a cat in the streets, or being screamed at by one hilarious and magnificently hysterical Carey Mulligan playing Llewyn’s friend, Jean, or screwing up a dinner party due to an unexpected duet – the script pulls the rug at these seemingly trivial moments, revealing an emotional undertow that builds up right until the moment when Llewyn sees his father in a retirement home. In an almost wordless sequence, the Coens showcase extraordinary economy in eschewing words and let Llewyn play his tune, adding breathtaking depth between his relationship with his father. That moment alone is a bittersweet triumph in my books, and one of the best I’ve seen in the festival so far.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen | CAST: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman | SCREENPLAY: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen | PRODUCER: Studiocanal | RUNNING-TIME: 105 mins | GENRE: Drama | COUNTRY: USA