With a visit to last year’s Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festi ’al. Joel and Ethan Coen proved their cult stardom on Scottish soil. The filmmaking brothers tell Nigel Floyd how their latest movie Fargo takes them back to the chilly landscapes of their Minnesota chddhood.
he often repeated mantra about the Coen brothers' new film Fargo is that
territory of their striking debut feature Blood Simple. In fact. in stark contrast to the southern heat and serpentine plotting of that taut 'l‘exas thriller. Fargo is a droll. discursive tale based on a ragged. real-life kidnapping that occurred in snow-covered Minnesota.
In order to pay debts on a dodgy business loan. :Vlinneapolis car salesman .lerry Lundegaard (played by William H. Macy. Dr Morgenstern in
FR) hires thugs Steve Buscemi and Peter
Stormare to kidnap his own wife. His plan is to collect a ransom from her wealthy lather. pay off the men with a small proportion of the cash. then pocket the rest. But his half-baked plan collapses when the kidnappers shoot dead a state trooper and two innocent bystanders. a
.’"‘-"_c-.' . '
it marks a return to the regional noir
triple homicide that sets local police chief Marge Gunderson ta wonderful turn by Joel Coen’s wife Frances McDormand) on their trail.
Fortunately. Joel and Ethan Coen are as puzzled as | atn by the Blood Simple comparisons. ‘The fact that Fargo is a reality- based drama really does make it quite different from Blood Simple.’ says Joel. with an audible sigh of relief. ‘()f course. there are certain
THE COEN BROTHERS FEATURE
According to Joel. there’s a certain regional specificity to her voracious eating habits. too: ‘I suppose it started with the Swedish smorgasbords we had when we were growing up. It‘s a specific kind of eating. those huge mounds of food. eating in bulk. In that area. the big thing that you’re concerned with when you go out to eat is big helpings at reasonable prices. And of course it dovetails nicely with the
superficial similarities: they‘re both very pregnancy.’ regionally specific and they’re both about Skilful casting is a cornerstone of the Coen crimes that devolve into chaos. But the brothers‘ style. Even when they’ve used actors approach we took in this movie like Paul Newman or Nicolas was much more observational. Cage — with their blend of ‘So whereas Blood Simple ‘Whereas Blood Simple movie star charisma and solid was kind of an overheated was an overheated character acting — the melodrama. Fargo is meant to ‘ filmmakers’ a roach has be niore dispassionatc in remained the time. ‘Once approach and tone. We tried to in approach and tone. we've cast an actor in a part.’ de-dramatise the violence to a explains Joel. ‘the role or
certain extent. and the architecture of the story is very different — it’s not a thriller in the sense that Blood Simple was. The fact that you don't really meet the heroine of the story until you're 40 minutes into the film gives it a strange shape. but one that reflects the way the events unfolded in the actual story.’
With films such as Raising Arizona. Miller’s (‘rossing and Barton Fink. the Coens established a reputation for creating strong. unconventional female characters. although lithan claims it’s not something they conscioust set out to do. Joel says it probably has more to do with their knowing so many
good actresses: llolly Hunter's real-life personality was the catalyst tor Raising
Arizona. and Frances McDormand’s role in Fargo was written specifically for her. Although not — like the (’oens — a native of Minnesota. .‘Vchormand's mid-West background did help her capture the pregnant Marge’s idiosyncratic speech patterns and wry. matter-of-fact manner.
‘.\linnesota people are sort of down to earth.‘ explains Ethan. ‘()ne never presents oneself as a big shot in that kind of culture. So Marge doesn’t hold herself up as anything
extraordinary. it‘s just how she is.’
We tried to de-dramatise the violence to a certain extent.’
character essentially becomes their invention.‘
It’s a strategy that pays healthy dividends. both in the Mutt—and-Jeff pairing of garrulous Buscemi and laconic Stormare. and in the quirky. ambiguous performance by Macy as Jerry Lundegaard. In particular. there is a quality of blind tenacity about the way that Jerry. no matter how badly things go wrong. clings naively to the idea that the situation can still be retrieved.
‘I don’t think either of us realised what a tough acting challenge we were handing Bill Macy with this part.’ says Ethan with the advantage of hindsight. ‘Jerry’s a fascinating mix of the completely ingenuous and the utterly deceitful. Yet he’s also guileless; even though he set these horrible events in motion. he’s surprised when they go wrong.‘
Joel adds: ‘lt’s interesting that you use the phrase blind tenacity. because that blindness is an important element. Jerry has this psychology that doesn't project itself into the future for one minute. in order to consider the consequences of what he happens to be involved in at that particular moment. As far as he’s concerned. it’s all just gonna work out.’
Fargo opens on Friday .i’l May. The screenplay is published by Faber and Faber priced f 7. 99.
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Don’t mess with a Coen: Frances McDonnantl braves the chlll In Fargo
The List 3l May-I3 Jun 199619