Oscar-winning Coens head home with "A Serious Man"

Sun Sep 13, 2009 2:54pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - If you think your life is tough, just be grateful Oscar-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen aren't the masters of your personal universe.

The brothers have delighted in heaping misery on their film characters since 1984's "Blood Simple," but usually reserve the suffering for deeply flawed individuals. There was, of course, troubled writer Barton Fink in 1991's movie of the same name.

In "A Serious Man," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, they set their sights on Larry Gopnik, a faithful husband and father whose only crime appears to be complacency with his stable life in 1960s Minneapolis, the same city where the brothers grew up.

"His complacency is part of what makes you frustrated with him as a character," Joel, the elder of the filmmaking brothers, told Reuters.

But Larry's sense of stability quickly evaporates when his life starts to unravel in several ways. His wife tells him she's taken with a pompous acquaintance. He finds his kids are siphoning away his money, and his career as a physics professor becomes threatened by an apparent bribe and anonymous letters that accuse him of academic dishonesty.

Meanwhile, his lazy, cyst-ridden brother is becoming an increasing burden, and he is tormented by a woman next door who has a tendency to sunbathe nude.


Set in the Jewish suburban neighborhoods of Minneapolis where the Coens lived their teenage years, the story bears more than a passing resemblance to the Old Testament Book of Job, in which a man's faith in God is tested by a series of trials and tribulations. But the Coens insist they didn't set out to tell a biblical story.   Continued...

<p>Directors Joel and Ethan Coen arrive at the "A Serious Man" film screening during the 34th Toronto International Film Festival, September 12, 2009. The festival runs from September 10-19. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>