I saw Coen Brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis at Mumbai Film Festival in October. And i have been looping its soundtrack since then. The film has released in US now. i saw Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha recently (Yes, yes, i know am late). And strangely, i have been connecting the dots between the two since that day. This is a perfect double bill. I was shouting out how come nobody was talking about this connect, and so this post. Though recently a friend pointed out a similar tweet by a film magazine editor too.
His name begins on strange note L-L. Her ends on funny note – Ha. He wants to sing. She wants to dance. Both have cat issues which starts their story. Both are in New York. And both have the same problem which they are struggling with – to find a roof above the head, and a bed to sleep.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a grim portrayal of a week in the folk singer’s life. His life is fucked up in more ways than one – career going nowhere, a pregnancy to deal with, family members who don’t mean much, a cat to take care of, and worst, not even a bed to fall asleep and forget all these worries. Is there anything worse than that? The world is hazy, and the weather is cold, gloomy, and depressing. It’s a heartbreaking story of an artist where music is the only comforting factor. In Bollywood dictionary, it’s the story of a struggler – a strange term to define any writer, director, actor, or anyone else who is trying his luck but still haven’t got the big break in the industry. As A O Scott wrote in this absolutely brilliant and spot on review of the film (and read the Coens like nobody has done in any ILD review) – “One of the insights of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is that hard work and talent do not always triumph in the end……We are, as a species, ridiculous: vain, ugly, selfish and self-deluding. But somehow, some of our attempts to take stock of this condition — our songs and stories and moving pictures, old and new — manage to be beautiful, even sublime” This city is full of such bleak stories. Yet that has never stopped anyone from becoming another Llewyn Davis, another eternal struggler. Ha!
Frances Ha film is warmer, lighter and funnier than Llewyn Davis. But her life is no better. She is looking for the same comforts – a roof and a bed. Her dancing career is going nowhere, she has no job, no money, her best friend has moved on, she has just separated from her boyfriend, she is very “undateable”, and her family members are far away from her. Frances doesn’t know what to do with her life, and most importantly, how to do it.
Thanks to Coens’ taste for strange black humour, Llewyn’s life seems to be in never ending loop. Frances is lucky that way. Baumbach is not that cold. In a gorgeous climax which turns this film into one of the greatest films on friendship, Frances at least achieves little bit of happiness (not describing it to keep it spoiler free). And Llewyn just gets another hard punch on his face.
If you are an outsider living and “struggling” in Bombay to find an entry point in Bollywood, you will laugh and cry with this double bill. Too many similarities, and the big picture is too scary at times. A hassle free roof and a comforting bed are the most expensive and elusive things in this city. Just another day, a friend landed up in Bombay. And as it always happens, the first call was about good brokers who can help find that roof and bed. Or you point them to the Flats Without Brokers FB group. Just two days later, she decided to pack her bags and went back to the city from where she came. i don’t know the reasons yet, didn’t bother to ask too. But it made me ponder over many such friends who have come to this city, struggled their way, and have found थोड़ा सा आसमान and a small corner for their bed. If i call it the “Llewyn Davis Condition”, then the comfort syrup can be called “Frances Ha” – strangers who are in similar situation like yours, who have left their roots for similar dreams, who become your family soon, and with whom you develop a bond so strong that it’s impossible to believe that you never grew up with these friends. Where were they all this while? How did you survive without them for so long?
Inside Llewyn Davis and Frances Ha connects more strongly if you are the fringes of any artistic field, and especially if its something to do with films. As i see many such friends with similar stories, all i know is that everything is uncertain till you quit or your name appears in the credit roll one friday. A talented and now-famous lyricist once explained to me why he still prefers working with a loud and pompous producer. He asked me, do you know what an artist want basically? i said, what? To work in peace so that he doesn’t have to think about the bread-butter, bed, and roof. That producer gives me that comfort and i can focus on my art.
So thanks to my “Frances Ha” bunch who helped me survive this city for more than a decade, and if you are new, hopefully you will find your ‘FHa’ friends soon. All you, Ahoy, Sexy!
All i can think that in a parallel world, Llewyn Davis and Frances Ha will meet. He will sing, and she will dance, he will let the cat out, and she will be happy about it. She will shout out Ahoy, Sexy! and he will sing hang me, oh hang me in response. And hopefully, i will be rich enough in that world to give away one of my houses to this duo.
If you haven’t seen, watch these two films. And watch them back to back. Maybe that’s the closest we can get to that wonderful parallel world.
(ps – If possible, do play the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack as you read this)