‘No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture’ it says on the penultimate page of the 38 page press release. Are they quite sure? There was an awful lot of quietly dreadful stuff happening in A Serious Man, the latest film by Joel and Ethan Coen.
Apart from the ‘quietly dreadful’ it’s a rather sweet and lovely film, albeit somewhat weird. Although neither Jewish nor American, I felt strangely at home anyway. I feel 38 pages of information about a film is slightly on the long side, but it did help explain how they came by a residential area looking as new as it should have done in 1967, when the film is set. Storm damage, apparently. I’d been worried they’d cut down all the mature trees.
The setting is almost too perfect and ‘authentic’, says I who have never set foot in the US. That’s the thing, really, with period pieces. They are too clean and too period. And it had better not have been the CCR Cosmo’s Factory they referred to.
What’s refreshing is using actors who are more or less unknown. We may feel we know them, but we don’t, really. It goes to show that we don’t need to be constantly forcefed Hollywood stars.
So, it’s about this poor middle aged man, who thinks life is fine and normal, and suddenly it’s anything but. Physics professor Larry Gopnik has a wife who wants to divorce him – as long as it’s a ‘gett’ kind of divorce – and a brother who’s a nuisance, a pot-smoking son just pre-Bar Mitzvah, and a daughter who washes her hair rather frequently. There is also his superior who will decide on giving Larry tenure. Or not. A blackmailing student, who gets the Physics, but not the Maths. Television aerials.
More rabbis than you can shake a stick at, and who can’t advise poor Larry very well, and a surprisingly kind divorce lawyer. One sexy neighbour and one gun wielding one, who mows the lawn in a worrying manner. And, a beginning to the film which makes almost no sense whatsoever, except it’s quite fun and enjoyable. Let that be a warning.
On at Cornerhouse from Friday.
(Photos © Focus Features)