Saturday, October 23, 2010

Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman, 2008 (7.6*)
Many will be confused and maddened by this complex and epic dark poem to one man's creative and spiritual abyss. Charlie Kaufman is best known for writing some of the most interesting screenplays in the last decade: Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which won Kaufman a screenplay Oscar®. However, unlike those films, here Kaufman also directs his own work, and he seems less reigned in than when directed by Michael Gondry and Spike Jonze.

The story is about theater director and playwright Caden Cotard, brilliantly but sadly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who receives a 'genius grant' and builds a hugely complex epic play about his own life. The cast, sets and growth of the main set to gargantuan proportions are as complex as this story, as over 200 sets were used as the play grows to last most of Cotard's adult life, as he seems to become dissociated from time, with years compressed into what he feels are days.

The supporting cast of women is superb - Catherine Keener, Dianne Wiest, Samantha Morton, Emma Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh are all standouts. Keener is Cotard's artist wife who takes their daughter and flees to Berlin, a failure which haunts the rest of Cotard's life, especially his romances, as Cotard is more consumed by his artistic creations than any woman he encounters.

Only Kaufman could write a story this complex about a small life, featuring literally a hundred characters, getting to the level of one playing Cotard directing the play about himself, working alongside him daily like a Doppelganger shadow, who also knows intimate details of Cotard's personal life. This is not a pleasant film, but is a richly conceived and complex dark comedy on the consumption of an artist by his self-indulgent obsession with his own life. This will interest cinephiles and fans of Kaufman's other works, but will likely bore the masses and those more desirous of an easy to follow and happier narrative.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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