Saturday, 6 March 2010

I Know How To Do It Now.

Oh, my love affair with Charlie Kaufman has been long and pleasurable. Not nearly long enough, actually, but pleasurable, where further pleasure could only be derived from further watchings of his existing films or by the release of new ones. Starting with Being John Malkovich, moving through Adaptation and ending up at Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (which I swear gets better and better, closer and closer to perfection every time I see it) (and I know I'm skipping Human Nature here - I've never seen it, one day I will, but from what I've heard it's not his best by far.) 

Which of course leads to his directorial debut, last year's Synecdoche, New York. The story revolves around theatre director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), married to artist Adele (Catherine Keener) with one young daughter. Living in Schenectady, he has just directed a version of Death Of A Salesman to rapturous acclaim. Adele, meanwhile, who has an exhibition opening shortly in Berlin, announces that she thinks it will do their marriage good if she goes to Berlin alone with daughter Olive, leaving Caden alone to flirt with Hazel (Samantha Morton), who works the box office at his theatre. Time passes and Caden hears nothing from Adele, and it becomes apparent that she has left him, finding incredible fame in Europe. Caden receives a fellowship grant, and with it decides to stage something big and important. This masterwork is his synecdoche.

Caden creates a miniature New York City within a warehouse in New York City. Within it he has an enormous cast of actors, working in the space simultaneously on their own stories, a piece of installation art on a mammoth scale, all directed by him. Years of rehearsals pass and the warehouse gets bigger and bigger, completely isolated from the real world outside. Cast members come and keep coming, Caden casts someone to play himself, and indeed replaces himself with someone else. He tries to find his wife and daughter and repeatedly fails, throwing himself back into the project with incredible dedication, expanding it and making it more and more complex, more and more real. It gets to a point where his play is the real world, there is no world outside it, after twenty years of rehearsals, the rehearsals have become reality.

It is a monumental vision with an incredible cast. Emily Watson features. Dianne Wiest features. Michelle Williams, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Kaufman, well recognised as being a master at creating places and times and stories entrenched in reality at the same time as they take an enormous leap away from it, takes the world and builds it within itself with Synecdoche, New York. And it is so real, even as it is so false.

But beyond the grand scale, it has been a long time since a film has elicited such a vocal response from me. I laughed out loud, I gasped, I stated my disbelief on more than one occasion. I was so swept up in the two hours of cinema that I was totally lost within it. The performances were astonishing across the board, Hoffman was mindbogglingly good, and I even thoroughly enjoyed Morton, whereas normally I'm quite content tolerating her. A beautiful theatrical score from Eternal Sunshine's Jon Brion highlighted the heightened emotional state, but it was Kaufman's script that kept on giving. Little random things, his trademark, dotted through a screenplay that, without them, would have been exceptional regardless, gave the characters a little more strange depth. Made them a little more individual within what otherwise could have been a homogenised and stale repetitive rehearsal process. I say could have been, meaning in the hands of a lesser writer.

And as a director, Kaufman acquits himself more than adequately. He pulls it all together, the obscene grandiosity of it all, while keeping it essentially very human. We stay within Caden even as the warehouse expands outwards. As incredible as it all is on the outside, it is the inside of his character that we cling to and emote with throughout.

5 stars.

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