A Critique of Three Comedic Films

Burn After Reading (2008)

There are three films that I have recently watched that I thought would be in the best interest to write about their commonality. These three comedy films are best associated with the artistic nature and history of the directors who have helmed each one. These four directors, listed alongside their respective film titles, are Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Burn After Reading (2008), Frank Capra, It Happened One Night (1934), and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Amélie (2001).

Each of these four filmmakers has earned equal recognition among their peers and from the movie theater attendees. There are a combined total of seven wins and seven nominations for the Oscar awards that have been accredited to this group of directors for their work in film making [awards statistics provided by IMDb.com]. The Coen brothers, in particular, have earned two of their four Oscar awards for writing the screenplays of the films in which they also have directed.

Although the four filmmakers have a varying degree of cinematic success each one has proven a running history of similar artistic styles. Frank Capra, for example, has only produced a single box office flop in his career leading up to 1938. By this point in his career he had already directed several films that revolve around a comedy of errors and characters that are social underdogs and underclassmen. The Coen brothers have established a career in dark comedies that include violent scenes intermixed with moments of witty dialogue and behavioral farce. The brothers have had their share of career highs and lows, but the artistic themes within their films have remained constant. Then there is the famous French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet who helmed the cult classic films Delicatessen (1991) and Amélie (2001). With the addition of the American science-fiction and action film Alien: Resurrection (1997) to his list of credits there is cinematic evidence for his talent to create and instill dark visual film style. Each one of the filmmakers has all dabbled in stories of comedy whether it is through the humor of behavior or with intellectual wit. The dark presence amongst their stories invokes the dark reality of the real world. Even in Capra’s epic film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) there is the presence of suicide at the beginning of the film.

The sadistically dark humor appears in Burn After Reading which is presented as a slapstick comedy, but only in a Cohen film would the characters be brutally murdering each other with axes and guns as they are fumbling around with their own personal fallacies which are humorous to the viewing audience. With the obsessive compulsive behavior of Harry Pfarrer who desires to build the perfect sex toy machine at a cut rate price, or Chad Feldheimer’s fascination with saying the name Osborne Cox over and over again. The viewing audience finds their behaviors amusing, but would the laughter arise during the tense scene in which Osborne Cox is chasing Ted Treffon down the street in order to brutally bash his head in with the sharp blade of metal? The sadistic artistic style of the Cohen brothers has blended the right mixture of humor with criminal behaviors that would keep the viewers attuned to watching the film unfold before them.

In opposition to the brutality of the Cohen’s cinematic storytelling there lies its romantic counterpart that relies more upon the positive emotions and feelings of love and happiness more than upon evil behavioral actions. Amélie obtains its comedic style through romantic and social interactions between the characters. The characters are attempting to resolve their own personal desires to obtain the most perfect of happy endings through a meaningful connection of a romantic relationship. During each of the personal adventures of each one of the characters they blindingly struggle through their own personal discrepancies that hinder them from noticing the solution to their deepest of romantic desires. The comedy that is derived from the film is produced from the idea that the characters have the best of intentions, but their own desires and actions are hindering them from observing the reality of their situation. The unique visual form of storytelling that Jeunet has created for this film helped the audience emotionally connect with the characters.

The visual elements that appear in the film include the use of cinematography (such as color saturation and camera angles) along side with the use of editing that leads the audience along to interpret the non-verbal reactions of the characters who are responding to any action off the screen. One particular example of the visual style would be the moment in which Amélie discovers the true identity of the bald guy who has appeared in several of the photo booth film strips. Her reaction of surprise is apparently displayed on her face as she watches him exit from a photo booth, but the viewer is refrained from discovering his true identity until later in the film’s story line. This form of storytelling was used as an editing device to prolong the desire of curiosity as long as possible so that the audience would share the similar desire of curiosity that the main character would feel during the progression of the film’s plot.

It Happened One Night is filled with wonderfully written intellectually witty dialogue that has been spawned from the moral codes that the production companies have abide to during the 1930s that barred them from using any profane material in the films that were produced for the general public. The on going joke with the Walls of Jericho being represented by a plain bed sheet implied the moral well being of the characters who held the utmost of intentions to abstain from any sexual interactions between each other, but the use of a bed sheet as a physical separation between the two of the characters serves nothing more than a comedic piece of irony. As the film progresses through its course the two main characters are sexually drawn to each other through their intellectual banter, but a bed sheet is the only thing that separates the pair from seeing each other when they retire to their beds for the night.

The use of comedy is apparent in all three films, but they are clearly differentiated from each other depending upon the unique artistic style and tone of the film’s directors. One set of directors would prefer to invoke a laugh from the audience shortly after they bear witness to a murder scene, while another director would thrive upon the audience’s response to the visual interactions between the characters, and the last director would presume the purely intellectual approach that would require the characters to spit out witty verbal responses that would be sparred between the characters quicker than the fire from a machine gun rattle.

The three separate films have proven that an filmmaker can begin with the concept of telling a story with a bit of humor, but each one of them has utilized a different method in which to portray how the message is perceived by the audience. In every instance the audience should respond with a hearty laugh and a good nature feeling about the film they are watching, but it is with a unique formula in which the story has been created that would serve the interested of the audience. Not every single viewer would enjoy the bloody violence of Burn After Reading, but that same person would be satisfied with watching a romantic comedy film like Amélie or a witty classic film such as It Happened One Night.

The directors for the three films have already established a clear style for the methods in which they are willing to portray a story regardless of the genre in which it would be connected. It is their method of storytelling that draws the same viewers to their films over and over again, because there is an established relationship between the storyteller and the listener that is cemented by the common ground that they share in similar tastes in entertainment style.

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