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A SERIOUS MAN

Director: JOEL COEN & ETHAN COEN

U.S.A. • 2009 • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 35MM • 105 MIN


PROVING THAT THEY’RE STILL CAPABLE OF SURPRISING US, JOEL AND ETHAN COEN HAVE FOLLOWED THE OSCAR-WINNING NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN AND THE ABSURDIST COMEDY BURN AFTER READING WITH ONE OF THEIR MOST INTRIGUING AND PERSONAL FILMS.

Drawing on the writer-directors’ own backgrounds as Jewish residents of Minnesota in the late 1960s, A Serious Man is a black comedy about the misfortunes visited upon family man and academic Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). ‘I feel the carpet has been yanked from under me,’ says Larry, a perfectly responsible man whose personal and private lives come under sustained attack. As professor of physics at a local university, Larry’s chances of securing tenure are threatened by poison pen letters attacking his integrity. At home, poor Larry’s wife is demanding a get (a Jewish divorce) because she has fallen in love with a sanctimonious bore. Larry also has to cope with a mildly unhinged brother who has taken up residence in his house, and two offspring who are quickly developing into problem teens.

Beautifully played by Stuhlbarg, Larry’s a familiar figure from a tradition in Jewish literature that stretches from the Old Testament to the work of Philip Roth. A kind of modern-day Job, Larry seeks an explanation as to why he has been singled out for such unfair treatment. No answers are forthcoming, especially from three rabbis who recount hilariously obscure parables. As so often in their films, the Coens throw their naive protagonist into a cruel, seemingly irrational world and watch him suffer. Yet there is as much sympathy as sadistic glee on display here, which makes this the pair’s most mature work to date. The Jewish context is crucial and impeccably observed, but it’s also treated with the Coens’ trademark irreverence. — Peter Walsh.

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