An American Odyssey

Oh Brothers!, the essay dedicated by Marc Cerisuelo and Claire Debru to the Coen brothers, reappears in an expanded edition. Essential.

Published in 2013, Oh Brothers! On the trail of the Coen brothersby Marc Cerisuelo and Claire Debru, stopped on what was then the sixteenth and last films of the brothers, the amazing Inside Llewyn Davis. Ten years later, the journey of the directors of Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski took an unexpected turn, since after two feature films betraying a certain breathlessness, Hail, Caesar! and The Ballad of Buster ScruggsJoel and Ethan Coen have chosen to go their separate ways, the former signing an adaptation of macbeththe second the documentary Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind. Circumstantial separation or final break? Only the future will tell. In the meantime, the authors judiciously offer an expanded edition of their essay, which they punctuate by forming a wish that we guess is shared by all aficionados: “that the belated appeal of the solitary adventure is so fruitful, so satisfying that the return to the siblings of Ithaca is a sweet evidence”.

The course of the Coens, Oh Brothers! considers it in extenso, Blood Simple (1984) to The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021), deciphering each of their 18 feature films in common, not without pinning down their participation in other films, as screenwriters or producers. The interest of the work is multiple, which sheds a detailed light on an imposing corpus divided for the most part between crime film and comedy, by underlining the lines of force while inviting, why not, to revise judgments that are too hasty -the authors thus rehabilitate Intolerable Cruelty and in a lesser extent, Hail, Caesar!. They underline the particularities of each film, not without attaching themselves to a gallery of characters who, from the trilogy of idiots camped in his time by George Clooney through the Dude immortalized by Jeff Bridges, and up to the definitive psychopath composed by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Menhave colored their universe – even if it were in black and white as in The Barber.

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Throughout the pages, the essay also seeks to explore the intimate relationship of the Coen brothers to American popular culture, whether it be Hollywood cinema (with the tutelary figure of Preston Sturges), the hard-boiled novel (and more particularly Hammett, Chandler and James M. Cain), music, country, rock or gospel, and even television. An exciting reading grid which, if it shows how much the work of Joel and Ethan Coen is porous to various influences, also establishes how much they managed to digest them to (anti)-conform them to their imagination, in a “strategy of distancing from models which borders on great art. What compose an American odyssey having made them essential figures of contemporary cinema.

Oh Brothers! On the trail of the Coen brothers

By Marc Cerisuelo and Claire Debru, Capricci editions, 312 pages.

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An American Odyssey