Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Aaron Wolff, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed and Sari Lennick
Direction: Joel and Ethan Coen
This does not quite seem like a season for great movies. Joel and Ethan Coen or the Coen Brothers, as they are popularly called, now present A Serious Man, a story about a Jewish professor who finds his life all convoluted and confusing. Meant to be humorous, it is not as rib-tickling as the directors' Fargo was (though it dealt with the horrible subject of a husband murdering his wife). Nor is A Serious Man(Oscar nod for Best Picture) as gripping as No Country for Old Men, which, though was electrifyingly violent with Javier Bardem brilliantly enacting a viciously vindictive drug runner in the 1980s West Texas. And, unlike the Coens' more recent Burn After Reading starred with big names like George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton, A Serious Man has relatively unknown faces.
Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a 1960s American physics professor, whose dream of a model family takes a beating at every turn of his waking hour. Wife Judith (Sari Lennick), bored by her serious guy and his attitude of men-wear-pants, looks across her garden to find a widower, Ablemen (Fred Melamed). He has no qualms about getting Judith into his arms. If this was not enough to drown Larry, his son, Danny (Aaron Wolff) piles up a huge debt with record club purchases while the man's live-in brother, Arthur (Richard Kind), has his ways of harassing the family. Sub-plots of a neighbour encroaching on Larry's property, and a Korean student forcing a bribe on the professor for a passing grade give us a picture of an America fast moving towards consumerist conflict.
This may be a point of appeal for middleclass Indians facing the carrot of consumerism, and if they were to seek a bit of laugh it will come, though more subtly than what they are normally used to in cinema. Much of the humour sneaks from Larry's angst and the self-possessed characters around him. It is the Serious Man's turmoil that seems funny. A touch of sadism perhaps, but then, that is the Coens for you.
Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on the Oscars for many years