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article imageReview: 'Inside Llewyn Davis' is a melancholy masterpiece Special

By Kristal Cooper     Dec 20, 2013 in Entertainment
A folk tale in more ways than one, the latest film from the Coen brothers is truly a thing of melancholy beauty, both visually and aurally.
Inspired by the life of Dave Van Ronk, who was a fixture in the early '60s New York folk scene, Inside Llewyn Davis doesn't go the easier veiled bio-pic route, preferring instead to explore that unique period of musical history with an eye for surrealism, a dark sense of humour and a pathos that would be depressing if it weren't so masterfully handled.
Oscar Isaac plays the titular character, a musician who had a tenuous shot at notoriety until his singing partner (played, in voice only, by Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons) committed suicide. Now Llewyn is at loose ends, drifting from couch to couch, and occasionally playing under attended gigs at local folk hangout, The Gaslight.
This is pretty much all you need to know about Llewyn as the film then embarks on a circular journey from The Upper West Side to Queens to Chicago and back to Greenwich Village, challenging the idea that the life of the travelling troubadour is a romantic one. Llewyn is a rootless guy who sings about emotions he can't seem to tap into himself and even though he tells himself he's taking the noble route by staying true to his art and not compromising his caustic personality to please others, it becomes clear early on in the film that he's the author of his own fate.
Despite this dismal premise, the world that Llewyn inhabits is an enchanted place, boasting the sort of colourful characters who could only be dreamed up by the mad genius minds of the Coen brothers, cinematography that resembles every folk album cover that came out of NYC in the '60s, and a T Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack that is not only entirely authentic to the period but stunningly beautiful to listen to.
It also helps that Oscar Isaac is a riveting performer. The film opens with the camera closely watching him sing a song in its entirety and it does its job in drawing you so entirely into the film and the character that it's hard to shake that feeling of captivation with Llewyn even when he's say, clumsily dealing with the fact that he's impregnated a friend's wife (Carey Mulligan) or making his dead partner's mother cry at a dinner party. He's just the type of guy you hate to love.
As with most of the other entries on their filmography, it's clear that the Coens aren't interested in documenting the lives of "winners." Rather, they find the beauty and humour in the futility of life and the pursuit of happiness (and, in this case, artistic endeavours). It may not always be entirely pleasant or escapist to watch, but it is totally relatable in an oddly magical way. For that reason alone, Inside Llewyn Davis is very definitely one of the best films of 2013 and yet another triumph for the Coen brothers.
Inside Llewyn Davis opens on December 20, 2013.
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