Writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen continue their string of arresting and intriguingly offbeat dramas with "Inside Llewyn Davis" [Sony]. Here we have a Greenwich Village folksinger, circa 1960, struggling to find his footing following the suicide of his singing partner. He sings at the Gaslight Café on MacDougal Street when he can get a booking; crashes with the husband-and-wife members of a Peter, Paul & Mary-type act, getting the Mary-type pregnant; loses and finds and loses and finds a cat; fights with everyone, friend or foe; and more or less disintegrates. This being a Coen film, there are odd storylines (like that escaped cat) and odd characters (like John Goodman as a heroin-addicted jazz musician Davis joins on a road trip to Chicago).
Oscar Isaac is quite a find as Davis. A Juilliard graduate, he played the role of Proteus (first originated by Raul Julia), in the 2005 Shakespeare in the Park production of the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona. One suspects that he could prove a valuable stage actor, although the aftermath of "Llewyn Davis" will probably keep him occupied on screen. He is joined by Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as the folk-singing couple, Garrett Hedlund as a Village poet and the aforementioned Mr. Goodman. Also of note are stage actors Stark Sands and Adam Driver — both of whom do their own singing, including a humorous turn on a novelty song by Driver — and F. Murray Abraham.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is a mood piece, and I suppose it helps if you are in the right mood. I found the film engrossing, with the locations — still-existing and recreated — providing a look at the "real" Village in the days before the beatniks were displaced by the hippies. Special features include "Inside Inside Llewyn Davis," a 40-minute "making-of" documentary featuring the Coen brothers, music producer T Bone Burnett, Isaac and assorted cast members.
Jean-Luc Gerard's "À bout de souffle" (1960) was not the first film of the New Wave movement that overtook the French cinema in the late 1950s and quickly influenced filmmakers around the world. It was one of the best, though, and over of the most important. Criterion has now transferred it to a sparkling new Blu-ray, under the more familiar title "Breathless."
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