That’s brotherly solidarity: Writing, directing, editing together to such a degree that they are also called “the director with two heads”.

What would anybody expect from a Coen brothers movie? Computer effects in 3D, brave men sacrificing themselves for grand ideals, beautiful women allowing themselves to become gripped by the blaze of flaming love, projects aiming at saving the world and meaningful mottos that will change your life? If you have such expectations from a film, you’d better steer towards the next movie hall.

Those who would do with a piece that lasts an hour and a half, extracted and edited by Ethan and Joel Coen from a simple, low-budget and long-lasting film called “life”, had better place themselves in the front row of the nearest theater, as from 28th November, to see “Burn After Reading.” Then, as expected from every ritual in a movie theater, leave the cold weather behind and wait in sweet anticipation in the darkness of the warm hall. And get ready to become witness to how the lives of ordinary people will turn upside down following simultaneous waves of extraordinary stupidity and coincidences. At the end of the film the waves will have struck, they will subside, life will go back to its peaceful, ordinary pace, some of the characters will have been coincidentally carried away by the waves and some others will have remained, still wet, but standing. Ultimately, when the lights turn on, people will leave the theater, with the feeling of “if it weren’t for all this stupidity and these coincidences, this story wouldn’t have been told; but after all, isn’t life about all this?” And the dissatisfaction of “is the film really over” will irritate some of the audience; until the next “extract from life“ written, directed and edited by the Coen brothers will be released.

People who know about the Coens are aware that this is the way the brothers do it. We can use the above synopsis for almost all their films. These American brothers first captured people’s minds with “Barton Fink” and then captured their hearts with “Fargo.” They grabbed three Oscars with just one film, “No Place for Old Men.” Besides, a dozen of their other films, some of which have been greatly appreciated, some of them not, have always attracted attention. But in all of them the basic construction material is so simple but at the same time full of much.

Beware that this description doesn’t entrap you to thinking that the Coens’  works are light or cheap. “Appearances can be… deceptive” as stated by Chad, the character with the lowest IQ in “Burn After Reading.”

For example, there you have got, scattered throughout the story, a handful of stars, all of them very expensive and all of them award-winners: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand. But they have been so carefully and masterfully made to look ordinary that the basic qualities which give them star brilliance have faded. They have been stripped naked of their “the sexiest guy,” “the gigantic actor” and “the inspiring beauty” qualities. They have turned into people who search for partners on the internet, who are obsessed with aesthetic surgery, who have just been laid off, who think the Cold War is still raging, who sleep with their friends’ wives, who don’t give a dime’s worth to their husbands and who are plotting to hit the jackpot through a short cut. If that wasn’t enough, they are incredibly (and at the same time, very credibly) engulfed by a cloud of stupidity. This being the situation, their lives, running smoothly along the riverbed of such ordinariness, are crowned by a series of unfortunate crimes that are triggered by a simple blackmail, which they later make a complete mess of. The Coens have adorned each one of these people with the feelings of compassion, tenderness and even nurturing love. They have designed their only victim (as they generally prefer) as the most heinous, and repulsive character. They have written small talk and a mouthful of curses. They have not taken themselves and their work over-seriously, but nevertheless have made a serious, substantially tragic, but at the same time, a very amusing film again. And again, they have subtly elaborated on the sensation, “obviously everybody must have greatly enjoyed themselves shooting the film.” They are indeed, as the younger Coen, Ethan, puts it, “the children permitted to play in the sandbox of Hollywood.” Take care nobody spoils your game!

Nov. 30, 2008, Newsweek Turkiye Issue 5

 

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