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New York Film Festival capsules: 'Inside Llewyn Davis' and 'Bastards'

This weekend at the New York Film Festival, partake in the latest from the Coen Brothers, Claire Denis and numerous avant-garde filmmakers.

Oscar Isaac (plus cat) plays a down-and-out 1960s folk singer in the Coens' "Inside Llewyn Davis." Credit: Alison Rosa Oscar Isaac (plus cat) plays a down-and-out 1960s folk singer in the Coens' "Inside Llewyn Davis."
Credit: Alison Rosa

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
5 (out of 5) Globes
The Coen Brothers are never upbeat, even when making a blockbuster like “True Grit.” But with their latest, they’re in one of their dark moods, mercilessly torturing an uncompromising, eternally downcast 1960s Greenwich Village folk singer (Oscar Isaac), who can’t catch a break even as his genre is taking off. Penniless, floating from couch to couch and estranging his ever-dwindling circle of confidants and benefactors (including a permanently pissed Carey Mulligan), Llewyn Davis floats through his own life like a sleepy ghost, awaking only to burn bridges. There’s no hope for him beyond just barely eking by, and the consistent horrors that befall him, along with the various tabby cats put inadvertently under his care, become equal parts depressing and perversely hilarious. As in their bleakest works (“A Serious Man,” “Burn After Reading”), this is life in a universe where the only gods are the filmmakers. And they’re in a sadistic mood.

‘Bastards’
4 (out of 5) Globes
Storytelling isn’t French filmmaker Claire Denis’ (“Trouble Every Day,” “White Material”) forte, nor should it be. She’s about mood, texture and loose observations. In terms of narrative clarity, her latest has been compared to “The Intruder,” her most inscrutable — though still enchanting — work. It's not that impenetrable. Though it takes awhile for all her pieces to settle, the story stars Vincent Lindon (the Huey Lewis lookalike who starred in her “Friday Night”) as a ship captain out to wreak vengeance upon a richie (Michel Subor) involved in a sadomasochistic sex ring. The exact details of his mission aren’t always clear, especially when he takes residence in the same apartment building as his mark’s mistress (Chiara Mastroanni), whom he starts romancing. But details are never important in a Denis film, which explore momentary pleasures (or non-pleasures) and a crippling sense of melancholy, which as ever is provided by a score by Tindersticks at their seediest/saddest. It’s all building to something, and the conclusion is both disappointingly obvious and breathtakingly visceral.

Views From the Avant-Garde
NYFF’s annual round-up of current (and sometimes classic) avant-garde work gets into the thick of things this weekend at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center. The latest from titans like Nathaniel Dorsky and Ernie Gehr are expected, but do check out the gorgeous, retro works of rising star Jodie Mack, whose 16mm animations get a program all to themselves. See the full lineup here.

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