Saturday, March 14, 2009

Synedoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman is known for his outstanding scripts like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that many of us probably saw and liked the movies, even when we found them “strange”. But Kaufman’s directorial debut with his own script is definitively the stranger of all.

This is a not easy to watch film about life and art, about art and life, and about everything that is between when you start with life and end with art or when you start with art and end with life. Clear? I doubt it. But you can’t take your eyes from the screen as since the beginning puzzles you, then the “transition” makes you totally lost and guessing what’s going on, and the most fantastic surreal second act with double scenes of many situations all happening inside an impossible large warehouse with a life size replica of Manhattan streets.

The story can be simple on the surface. A small town stage theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) co-exist in a senseless marriage that falls apart when his wife Adele Lack (Catherine Keener) leaves with their daughter to Berlin. Caden suffers a litany of physical maladies that well resembles a true hypochondriac with fear to be dying that totally influences his relationships with women, especially the theater box office lady, Hazel (Samantha Morton). Story jumps in time to when Caden wins a MacCarthur endless money grant and decides to direct a play of his own writing and so he does. This is when the second act starts that to put it simple, the play is about his life until his very last breath.

But obviously the story is not as simple especially in the second act, but you have to know that is quite complex (different complexity) also in the first act and the transition. Confused? You really have to see the movie to get an idea of how complex this movie is and definitively if you dare to watch it twice and more times, you will discover the many layers that surely you didn’t notice the first time you saw it.

Performance by Hoffman is stellar but also all the leading ladies are fantastic including Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis and Dianne Wiest. Perhaps the strangest role goes to Jennifer Jason Leigh but I sort of get it as she’s always playing crazy/disturbing characters.

I think that up to now I have written more with emotion from watching this movie, but I have to tell you all that this is a movie could show you paranoia, could make you feel claustrophobic (thanks to great camera work and framing in tiny spaces) and could disgust many with the constant references to body fluids, physical malfunction, bleeding and deterioration. But still if you can endure what I call the second act in the end you will be exposed to gravely serious contemplation of life, love, art, human decay and death that I’m sure will blow your mind and leave you thinking about many life related issues.

The movie was premiered in competition for the Palm D’Or at the 2008 Cannes (took me almost a year to be able to watch it) and since then has had many honors in festivals around the world, including winning the Best Ensemble Cast (tie) at the 2008 Gotham Awards, Best First Feature and the Robert Altman Award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards. Please browse the blog to find more honors that the film totally deserves.

Absolutely not for all audiences and not suited for those that need clear stories in their movies. You have to enjoy movies where dialogue is important (talk, talk, talk), with impossible and surreal surroundings, and the best reference is that if you enjoyed the movies Charlie Kaufman wrote, then probably you will highly enjoy his directorial debut. Bravo!


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