May 14, 2009

Synecdoche, New York

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere this review will probably be superfluous. But this superb creation only just landed in Australia, so my review begins now. Synecdoche, New York is quite possibly the most imaginative film I have ever seen. It is daring, complex, brave, humane, moving, funny and confusing. It is not perfect, but the strengths of this compelling piece of cinema are so great that I implore you to find it at a cinema very soon.

Synecdoche, New York is the first film that wonder writer Charlie Kaufman has directed. As with his previous films (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, etc.), the script is complex and thrillingly daring. It defies logic, yet also burns a bright spotlight on human nature. It would be impossible to sum up the film in a few words, but I will try to give you a brief overview. Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theatre director in Schenectady, New York who is totally frustrated with his life. His health is failing and he wishes he could find a work of greatness that he could direct. He is frustrated both professionally and personally. His artist wife Adele Lack (Catherine Keener) is feeling frustration also. She longs for a break in their marriage and not long into the film this occurs. Cotard does have his admirers though. There is Hazel (Samantha Morton) who works the theatre box office and is infatuated with him. There is also Claire (Michelle Williams), his leading lady. She loves Caden's intellect and artistic mind. Caden also seeks counsel with therapist Madeleine (Hope Davis), who provides an unusual sounding board. Then Caden's stroke of luck becomes his life's albatross. He receives a 'genius grant' to undertake any theatre project that his heart and mind desires. Moving to New York he starts with one thing. A big idea. A big idea to make a monumental play about the complexities of life. What starts with nothing becomes a twenty year quest to find its ending. An enormous sound stage and countless sets and actors only complicates things. So we have an artistic journey and a personal journey. Each of which mirrors and intertwines with the other.

This extraordinary film is a true journey for the audience as it is for the characters in the film. This film is concerned with big concepts and idea. Not where we come from, but what do we do with our lives while we are here. Kaufman uses the staging of the play to focus with sharp intent on those that are involved in the making of it. As the play begins with nothing, it grows until it can grow no more. The director of the play finds that he can not contain the growth and the direction of the piece of theatre. Much like life, we are unable to control the many contours and twists that are thrown our way. In our search for truth and meaning we often are found lost, only then realising that our happiness ultimately rests in the connections that we make with fellow beings. The remarkable aspect of this film is that it is all told with a clarity rarely seen. It is told with subtle wit, there are many funny scenes, and an enormous heart. Humanity flows everywhere, a credit to the great cast. Hoffman is exceptional as always as the troubled central character. Morton and Keener are wonderful also, especially Morton who plays the one character who has the biggest connection with Caden. The concept of this film is odd and unique, which makes it very hard for every emotonial scene to work completely. It is very hard to be surreal and real at the same time. But on the whole it works successfully most of the time. A credit to Kaufman and his sublime imagination. In an age of quick fix movies and five second memories it is refreshing to witness a film of such daring and bravery. This is cinema I need to experience more then just once.

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