Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Review: A Serious Man

by Eric Green

The Coen Brothers: A Serious Man

I.B. Singer Meets the Coen Brothers: Now that is a Meeting That Could Only Produce the Latest Coen Bros. Hit!!!!

Well they did it again. Another rousing, complex and original film from the fabulous Coen Brothers. How could anything else happen?

The heroes of this Coen film are the two casting directors: Ellen Chenoweth and Rachel Tenner. They selected the film's cast, of course with the approval of the brilliant writers, producers and directors: Ethan and Joel Coen. The regular filmgoer would know almost none of the actors. Of course, once you see them on the screen, they will be quite familiar as Coen people. Each and every one of these actors was perfectly casted for the very special roles assigned by the Coen's. This is almost always the case with Coen brothers films, but it is every more important to this rather unique film.

Michael Stuhlberg and Richard Kind as the brothers: Larry and Arthur Gupnick. Sari Lennick plays Larry's wife and Fred Melamed the lover in waiting.

One the reviews on the film said: "Masterfully fictionalized autobiography." And, so it is.

In an interview on the PBS Charley Rose show, they gave away the real genesis of their very personal film. It is the great Yiddish story teller and writer: Isaac Bashevis Singer. What could the Coen Brothers and I.B. Singer have in common? A whole lot. Both Coen brothers said that they read all of Singer's books. They loved them. This fact became quite apparent at the opening segment of the film and pretty much all the way through it.

The film is set in 1967 and in the hometown of the Coen Bros: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It is always hard to describe and comment on a Coen film. This film is all the more difficult given its complete emergence into the religious and cultural world of a Jewish community in a Midwestern town. It is the amazing audacity of the Coen brothers to produce a film that is so deeply involved in all the vagaries of Jewish life. And, there are lots of vagaries. Very amazing.

The humor throughout the film keeps it in its proper place. The humor of Singer and the humor of the Coen's meshed very well. They are meant for each other.

The music of the film is also a very important aspect. The original music was produced by Carter Burwell; but the award goes to the music editor: Todd Kasow and the music mixer: Michael Farrow. Jefferson Airplane and Gracie Slick make it into a Jewish parochial school class and in a key Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

The cinematography immediately brings to mind the Coen's icon, hit film "Raising Arizona." The alienation portrayed in that film is certainly alive and well in this film.

Would the film be more familiar to people from a Jewish religious and cultural background? Probably. But, there is universality to the themes. That would make it similar but very different from Philip Roth the great novelist. Roth seems to specialize in the phenomena of young Jewish boys in their adolescent years. The Coen's capture that same Roth magic in their film.

One drawback of the film was the Coen's decision to use a Korean family to be the center of a morality issue. That didn't make much sense.

Note on I.B. Singer

One of the better collection of Singer's collective stories was produced by the Library of America as a three book set with An Album booklet to complete the set. I've always felt that Singer does not get the attention that he should receive. The reason I think lies in the political distain that segments of the Jewish hierarchy has toward Yiddish, especially Israeli's who want to make sure that only Hebrew is spoken by Jewish people. I don't think Singer would be a supporter of the current trends taking place in Israel.

Check it out:
Library of America
14 East 60th Street
NYC, NY 10022

The Library of American is a non-profit publisher