Barton Fink

dir. Joel Coen

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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The Coen brothers won the Palme d'Or at Cannes for this surreal, creepily funny tale of a New York playwright (John Turturro) who goes through the looking glass when he arrives in 1940s Hollywood to write for the movies.

In 1941, New York's latest star playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro) is summoned to Hollywood to write for the movies. His artistic idealism is deeply shaken upon meeting fast-talking studio boss Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), who assigns him to write a wrestling picture for Wallace Beery, and acclaimed novelist turned Hollywood hack W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), who spends his days drinking and railing against the studios while his secretary/mistress (Judy Davis) ghostwrites his screenplays (and, perhaps, his novels). Suffering from writer's block and holed up in a dilapidated hotel room, Barton is unwillingly befriended by his neighbour, overly cheerful travelling salesman Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), while ominous news of a serial killer on the loose darkens the bright California sky. A creepily funny, densely layered fable, Barton Fink (which won the Palme d'Or, Best Director and Best Actor at Cannes) sees the Coens meditating on the dark side of classic American iconography, as snooty, Clifford Odets manqué Barton's condescending championing of the mythical "common man" runs up against the myth's nightmarish (sur)reality in the deceptively merry Meadows.