How not to solve executive stress - Life and Style - The Independent

How not to solve executive stress

FILM

Hannah Arendt's sombrely disgusted phrase "the banality of evil" might have been minted to describe the chief villain of Joel and Ethan Coen's new murder story Fargo (18). Jerry Lundegaard (William H Macy) is a twitchy, apologetic little bureaucrat with the face of a startled beagle and a soul full of maggots. He flogs overpriced cars for his rich father-in-law and insists on being called an Executive Sales Manager; his unthinking reverence for that sad word "executive" is just one of the cruelly observed details that render him pitiful. Somehow or other, Jerry has worked himself so deeply into debt that he has come up with the solution of hiring a couple of psychotic thugs (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so that they can then divide up the ransom money from her dad. Well, you would, wouldn't you?

As anyone but Jerry could have predicted, the plan goes screeching off the rails, leaving a trail of worm-meat in its wake. But his scheme also founders for a wholly unpredictable reason - it runs headlong into Police Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), who at first seems so dopily laconic that it's easy to miss her shrewd intelligence and fierce good sense. Peering into a wrecked car to examine the goons' first victim, she mutters, "Uh, I just, I think I'm gonna barf." Not from squeamishness, though: she's expecting a happy event. By the end of the film, this unexcitable, heavily pregnant public servant has grown into one of the great heroines of contemporary cinema - a beguiling innocent, a representative of the blandness of good.

Set in the snowlands of Minnesota and North Dakota, and shot by the accomplished British cinematographer Roger Deakins, much of Fargo is literally dazzling. The screen is filled with vast, monotonous tracts of white, relieved only by a solitary car or some goofy roadside attraction like a statue of Paul Bunyan toting, not insignificantly, an axe. When the action switches to interiors, they're so doggedly unremarkable as to seem eerie; Marge's home patch of Brainerd, one suspects, must be the sister town of Twin Peaks.

As in their earlier films, of which Blood Simple offers the clearest antecedents for Fargo, this glum comedy-thriller is crammed with matter quite independent of its plot. For outsiders, particularly, there's a geographical and ethnological fascination in seeing these rarely filmed parts of the States, where Marge and her pals keep out the cold by constant feeding on Midwestern stodge - a good friend who lived in the region for some years tells me that such foodstuffs are known to the cynical as "Lutheran binder" - and preserve the memory of their Scandinavian forebears in their sing-song speech patterns and Nordic pronunciations. Roughly half the sentences spoken in Fargo include the word "yah" meaning "yeah" or "yes"; in one scene, in which Marge interrogates a couple of whores, that colloquial affirmative yo-yos or yah-yahs back and forth so rapidly it sounds as if they're limbering up for an a cappella number.

Since the Coen brothers are a pair of bright Minnesota boys who moved out and made good, it might appear as if they were simply going back to lord it over the place they've escaped, with sneers frozen across their faces and stalactites of ice lodged in their hearts. ("Coldness" has become such a routine cry against them that the wind-chill factor in Fargo could be read as a joke on critics.) Not all of the film abstains from poking fun at the rubes: when the Coens go out of their way to notice the over-eager simper of a waitress, or the ramblings of an elderly witness, or the flickering light cast by ubiquitous television screens over expressionless features, you can hear the tittering of the over-educated.

But Marge rescues the film. By throwing such weight on her happy marriage to the quietly un-normal Norm (John Carroll Lynch), who paints wildfowl for a living, the Coens transcend their own habitual tricksiness so completely that they can even rise to an uplifting ending, and a plain-spoken moral: "There's more to life than a little money, you know." Frances McDormand, aka Mrs Joel Coen, plays her with beautifully unfussy subtlety. And Steve Buscemi, who has now taken over from James Woods as the actor most likely to be cast as a rat-faced sleazeball, is a disreputable joy: in a film that often provokes knowing chuckles, he gets the big laughs, especially when he staggers in from the snow, blood gushing from the remains of his jaw, and slurs, "You should see zhe uzher guy!"

By sustaining its narrative tension through almost suicidally frequent scenes of apparent irrelevancy - Buscemi, facial wounds spouting, angrily chewing out a parking attendant; Marge fending off the clumsy attentions of an old high-school acquaintance - Fargo manages to be both immensely entertaining and something more uncomfortable than penny-plain entertainment. It's one of the few recent films that flirts with the comedy of violence without losing a grip on its humanity. Though FR Leavis would have hated it, it's decidedly For Life. Or, in the minimalist sociolect of downtown Brainerd: Real good, now, yah?

Some films are almost impossible to review without giving away the ending; From Dusk Till Dawn (18), directed by Robert Rodriguez from a script Quentin Tarantino had stuffed at the back of his sock drawer, is almost impossible to review without giving away the middle, so readers who have somehow avoided hearing about its big gimmick should skip their eyes lightly across the following until they see the name "Artaud". OK, here's the big gimmick: it starts out as a fairly realistic gangsters-and-hostages movie, then abruptly switches track after about half its running time and becomes a vampire movie. Not an artsy vampire movie, but a movie in which a thousand fanged and slavering gribleys get shot, staked, decapitated, disembowelled, crushed, burnt, melted and ripped apart, so that the air is filled with entrails, nasty green body fluids and harsh language.

It is, in a word, preposterous. While wholly innocent of any redeeming content, however, it does have the odd point. In the first half, set in Rodriguez's home state of Texas, the ghastly bank-robbing Gecko brothers, Seth (George Clooney, the sex god from ER) and Richard (Tarantino, a bespectacled sex fiend), hijack the mobile home belonging to a freshly lapsed priest, Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), and his children (Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu) and force the family to drive them across the Mexican border to freedom. In the second, they fetch up at a godforsaken truckers' bar called the Titty Twister, where they watch a rather sexy dance by one Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) whose features suddenly melt into something from Bram Stoker's Dracula. All hell, or a fair slice of it, breaks loose.

It's probably quixotic to try to proffer discriminating judgements about a movie which cries out for a one-word response, be that word "Cool!", "Yuk!" or "Puerile". But Rodriguez has enough kinetic flair to make it seem a pity that he's content to apply it to manufacturing gleeful trash.

While best known for his theatre work, Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) made a substantial contribution to the cinema: as an actor in more than 20 films, including Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc; as a screenwriter (Dulac's La Coquille et le Clergyman); even as a critic - he reviewed the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business (loved it) for La Nouvelle Revue Francaise. None of these facts is so much as mentioned in Gerard Mordillat's perversely polite biopic My Life and Times With Antonin Autaud (no cert), an adaptation of Jacques Prevel's memoir of the writer's last years, which pulls off the feat of making one of the unmissable visionaries of the century seem like a sorry old flake.

As Artaud, Sami Frey is dignified and melancholic, but far too cute - closer, despite the actor's years, to the glamorous Man Ray portrait of 1926 than to that frightening, toothless, electroshock-shattered face that glares out of the late photographs. It's dull if you happen to know anything about the man, and largely baffling if you don't.

Cinema details: Going Out, page 10.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Energy Markets Analyst

    £400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

    Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Nursery Manager

    £22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

    Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week