The Coen Bros' re-visit of the early folk music era in New York's Greenwich Village was certainly not lost in translation here in Cannes where it was received with almost universal affirmation earlier this week. "Inside Llewyn Davis" may also mark a turning point for actor Oscar Isaac, who's presence is in virtually every frame of the film; he even gets to show off his musical chops, while carrying the film about an unheralded folk singing talent who attempts to succeed solo after the suicide of his singing partner.
Isaac gets a bit of on-screen competition from a feline who may very well upstage the winner of the unofficial Palme Dog prize, which is annually awarded by international film critics (the cat deserves it this year, even if its woof is in the form of a meow!).
Also starring Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake, the film "doesn't really have a plot," said Joel Coen at a post-screening press conference. "That actually concerned us at one point, which is why we threw in the cat." Brother Ethan Coen admitted that the filmmaking duo were "pretty screwed" until they found Isaac who has been acting and performing for years, though his professional turn has only somewhat recently been recognized.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" arrived in Cannes with a mixture of anticipation, though that's to be expected from a Coen Bros. film, but also speculation of whether it would be up to snuff. But if its Cannes showing is any indication, the film should be an indie hit and an Isaac career-boost. The actor as well as the Coens, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake took part in a lunch-time chat with a small group of journalists at the stately Carlton Hotel (when it's not splashed with cheesy movie ads). Here are ten memorable quotes from the conversation:
1. Fate vs. luck is a running theme: "The fate aspect is who you are," said Joel Coen. "The other aspect of it is characterized by luck. Good luck and bad luck factor into success and failure."
2. Filmmaking is easy -- if you happen to be a Coen: "We don't have anything to compare it to. Is the job easy or hard? Sometimes it's ridiculously easy and people want to maintain a mystique about it." Added Joel jokingly, "Don't want to let too many people to try it. But with the character in this movie, it was a bit hard."
3. Oscar Isaac unknowingly spent 33 years prepping for Llewyn Davis: "I started writing music at about 13 years old playing and borrowing my dad's video camera. So in a funny way, it's been about 33 years of training for this. I heard about it right about the right time. I was finally at the point that I had been doing some movies for awhile, so I figured that if I at least wanted to get the audition, I could get that far. "
4. Carey Mulligan blocked out her second time on set with Oscar Isaac: "When we started working together on this I didn't think about the fact we had done a movie together already ("Drive"). He was so into that character. Though he had a comfort level there from his previous experience acting."
5. And playing American in her roles of late: "The Coen Bros. write so brilliantly and I like having reems of dialog even though half of that is profanity. It's great to be able to speak that much. The last couple of years I've simply been looking for great parts and I haven't been conscious at the time of whether they were British or American though most have turned out to be American." But she's headed back to being a Brit soon: "In September I'll be doing something a bit closer to my accent…so I'm excited I get to be English."
6. Justin Timberlake is bringing sexy back: "I don't find Jim nerdy. I find Jim sexy. I enjoy humorous roles and I think that's what Joel and Ethan thought of with this guy and I'm just happy that they thought of me." JT would do "anything" to be a part of a Coens film: "If I love the movie and I see a way in then I'm all about it. Joel Coen called me and said, 'This is a funny part and I think this would be good for you.' I said, "I'd run Craft Services for you." I feel very lucky to have played the characters I've played. Probably the most openly nerdy I've played is the substitute in 'Bad Teacher.'"
7. Cannes is good for the Coens: "The first movie we had was a Midnight screening, 'Raising Arizona,'" recalled Joel. "It's one of the weird things that makes you feel very old. I was saying to Ethan, 'wow, we've been here a lot'...There's something about the fact our movies have been very welcome here which is undeniably great of course. One of the lucky things about our career is to have that and we're always happy to come back here. It's been woven into the [evolution] of our whole career."