May 23, 2008

Cannes. Synecdoche, New York.

"[Charlie] Kaufman, the wildly inventive screenwriter of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has, in his first film as a director, made those efforts look almost conventional," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

Synecdoche, New York

"Like his protagonist, a beleaguered theater director played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, he has created a seamless and complicated alternate reality, unsettling nearly every expectation a moviegoer might have about time, psychology and narrative structure. But though the ideas that drive Synecdoche, New York are difficult and sometimes abstruse, the feelings it explores are clear and accessible."

This is "film of staggering imagination, more daring in content than form as it explores the unbearable fragility of human existence and the sad inevitability of death," writes Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. "Flashes of comic genius and melancholy insight into the human condition are woven into an increasingly elaborate canvas in which the boundaries between artifice and reality are slowly erased. Mainstream audiences are likely to find it simply too weird and unfathomable for their viewing pleasure but surely nobody expected Kaufman to make What Happens In Vegas?"

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has a photo and quotes from the press conference.

The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein talks with Kaufman.

Anne Thompson comments on Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and UTA's decision to screen the film earlier than originally planned.

Online viewing tips. Via Playlist, three clips.

Online viewing tip. The Circuit asks folks on the street to try to pronounce the title.


Updates: "Like an anxious artist afraid he may not get another chance, Charlie Kaufman tries to Say It All in his directorial debut," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Unusually for a first film, the strangely titled opus feels more like a summation work, such as or especially All That Jazz as it centers on an artist who battles creeping infirmity and deathly portents by plunging into a grandiose project. On the most superficial level, many viewers will be nauseated by the many explicit manifestations of physical malfunction, bodily fluids, bleeding and deterioration. A larger issue will be the film's developing spin into realms that can most charitably be described as ambiguous and more derisively will be regarded as obscuritanist and incomprehensible."

"There are so many things going on in Synecdoche, New York - deadpan jokes and weird set design, perverse reversals and leaps in time, the strong possibility that our protagonist may not be living these events but dreaming them, or may not even be real, or alive - that one can feel curiously challenged to actually care," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Synecdoche, New York is the kind of movie that inspires more intellectual comparisons - It's for our modern age! It's a post-Woody Woody Allen film! It's Jacob's Ladder for New Yorker subscribers! - than emotional responses."

"Collapsing in sodden self-reflexivity after a promising 40 minutes, Kaufman's arch, interminable phantasmagoria - with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a Job-like theater director - retroactively improved all but the most miserablist movies I saw at Cannes," writes J Hoberman in the Voice.

"Is pretty much the whole film a dream of one of the characters, as another critic was making a (persuasive) case for in the lobby of the Lumiere screening room mere minutes after the picture ended?" wonders Glenn Kenny at indieWIRE in one of the most intriguingly descriptive reviews yet. "Shockingly despairing as Synecdoche, New York can be, it offers such an abundance of imaginative material that it could conceivably be telling us that arguing about stuff is its own reward, and possibly the only point of living, as love never solves any of the characters' quandaries here."

Updates, 5/24: Kaufman "could use a Spike Jonze (less so a Michel Gondry) to rein in his indulgences, but this is a funny, self-lacerating film," blogs Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago.

"Finally!" exclaims Richard Corliss in Time. "For nine days, the 61st Cannes Film festival had doddered along into a premature senility. What we got, mostly, were cautious reprises of top directors, earlier pictures... In 2006, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth showed up on the last day, to prove there was life in the old medium yet. This year the savior is Charlie Kaufman's demanding, rewarding Synecdoche, New York.... Kaufman has constructed a most devious puzzle, a labyrinth of an endangered mind. Yet it's one that - thanks in large part to a superb cast, led by Hoffman's unsparing, sympathetic, towering performance - should delight viewers who both work the movie out and surrender to its spell.... No film with an ambition this large, and achievement this impressive, can be anything but exhilarating. Coming on the next-to-last day of a mostly glum festival, Synecdoche, New York is like a surprise happy ending. This is a deus ex machina - a miracle movie."

Updates, 5/25: "It's not a dream, Kaufman says, but it has a dreamlike quality, and those won over by its otherworldly jigsaw puzzle of duplicated characters, multiple environments and shifting time frames will dissect it endlessly," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "None of this is easy to follow, and it requires concentration to stay up with all the changing characters and the many abrupt moves in all directions, but such is Kaufman's confidence as a filmmaker and his wonderful ability to write memorable dialogue that the converted will follow him anywhere."

Adds Steven Zeitchik: "[T]he film is not at all the surrealist muddle early detractors had described - it's a work of profound ambition and artistry."

Update, 5/26: "The problem with [Kaufman's] film, which I loved in portions, understood the point of and was somewhat amused by in the early rounds, is the damn moroseness of it," writes Jeffrey Wells.

Update, 5/29: "When I interviewed Kaufman a few years ago, around the time of the Oscar-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly, "he told me with palpable gravity that he feared he had run dry as a writer, and this deeply personal movie about the fear of death - creatively and physically. Kaufman lacks the peppy visual direction and snappy pacing of a Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry, but I nevertheless enjoyed Synecdoche, New York for its uniquely jaundiced view of the attempt to bring meaning to one's life through art, and I'd wager that the film will look even better a few months from now, seen apart from the hothouse atmosphere of the world's most prestigious (but also impatient) film festival."

Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.

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Posted by dwhudson at May 23, 2008 5:04 AM