The Coen brothers' entry for the Cannes film festival's Palme d'Or is a warm-hearted ode to New York and its early folk scene.
CANNES, FRANCE (MAY 19, 2013) (REUTERS) - Folk music, Greenwich Village and a quick-footed cat star in the new Coen brothers movie at the Cannes film festival on Sunday (May 19), kicking off the first of five U.S. entries with its engaging misadventures of a struggling singer.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" by directing duo Ethan and Joel Coen is a delightful tale about the early 1960s folk music scene, a tribute to artists living hand to mouth, and an ode to New York all at once.
Told through the lens of its protagonist Llewyn, played by Oscar Isaac, the movie retains all the quick repartee and quirkiness of classic Coen brothers films such as "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Barton Fink", for which the pair won Cannes' top prize, the Palme d'Or in 1991.
But anchoring the film and providing a counterpoint to the whimsical is the soulful voice and deadpan of Isaac, whose character cannot catch a break -- from concert promoters, his agent, or his on-off lover Jean, played by Carey Mulligan.
As if it is not enough to have no money, no job, and nowhere to live, Llewyn has also managed to lose a kindly older friend's ginger cat and the chase scenes between man and feline through the miserable New York winter are among the film's highlights.
But despite the light-hearted lens trained on Llewyn's ups and downs, Joel Coen insisted at a news conference on Sunday that he and his brother were not sending up the folk music scene.
"I think you can tell from the movie the music is something we have a genuine and deep fondness and respect for. It was never intended as any kind of a parody," he said.
Drawing spontaneous applause from the critics at an advance screening on Saturday was a scene in which Llewyn plays back-up guitar for a friend, played by Justin Timberlake, during a recording session of a wonderfully absurd song about President John F. Kennedy and the U.S. space programme.
The star singer-turned actor said that though different in style from his own back catalogue, the folk songs featuring in the film reminded him of early childhood musical influences.
"It felt warm and fuzzy to me to be in this movie and singing but yes I think we had a specific style that I think we wanted Jim and Jean to sound like, to be something that was counter-intuitive to Oscar's character," he said.
Mulligan too takes to the stage to sing a tune in the film's grimy folk bar, a performance she described as nerve-wracking.
"Joel and Ethan have, this amazing ability to make you feel completely comfortable and so I just did it. And also I just sang one line on my own and in the background you can get away with a lot," she said.
The Coens' playful fare followed a mostly sombre slate of films competing for the top prize, the Palme d'Or, to be awarded on May 26 by a jury presided over by director Steven Spielberg.
They compete in the prestigious main competition of 20 films against fellow American directorsSteven Soderbergh ("Behind the Candelabra"), Alexander Payne ("Nebraska"), James Gray ("The Immigrant"), Jim Jarmusch ("Only Lovers Left Alive").