The Coen Brothers come home

Joel and Ethan Coen
Joel and Ethan Coen on the set of "A Serious Man," the writer/director duo's latest film.
Photo by: Wilson Webb

If ever there was such a thing as Coen Brothers month in Minnesota, it starts tonight. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is celebrating 25 years of feature film making by the St. Louis Park natives by showing every single one of their movies - except the newest one, "A Serious Man."

That opens in the Twin Cities on Oct. 3.

The Walker event offers a rare opportunity as Joel and Ethan Coen will appear for a public dialog about their work.

You can see a gallery of the Coen's films here.

Ask just about any film fan and they can come up with a favorite line from a Coen Brothers movie, whether it be "No Country for Old Men."

"Well, it's a mess, ain't it Sheriff?"

"If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here."

Or "Fargo."

"I'd be very surprised if our suspect was from Brainerd."

Or "The Big Lebowski."

"Yeah, well, the Dude abides!"

Yet for all that familiarity, it's not easy to define what makes for a Coen brothers movie.

Fargo, 1996
Frances McDormand in "Fargo."
Image Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

"I think that is an impossible question and I'm not sure I would even want to make an effort," Bob Graf, who's worked with the Coens for 15 years, said.

Graf has been executive producer on the Coens' three most recent films.

"I'm sure that people in some ways would say they have a recognizable style," he said. "I personally find that the movies differ in important ways. So I don't know, it's difficult to say."

That difficulty is the result of the Coens' broad range of material. They've done thrillers, comedies and musicals, and have written original scripts, adapted novels and remade a classic film, "The Ladykillers."

They even reset the Odyssey in Depression-era Mississippi in "O Brother where art Thou?"

"A Serious Man," set in 1960s St. Louis Park, where the Coens grew up, tells the story of a man enmeshed in personal crisis.

Walker Art Center film curator Sheryl Mousley says ultimately the Coens tell stories of our day and age, every which way.

No Country for Old Men, 2007
Actor Javier Bardem as hitman Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men." The film was based on a book by Cormac McCarthy.
Image Courtesy of Miramax Films

"From the film noir to comedies, to looking at evil to looking at happiness, to just the rigor of our life is," Mousley said. "So they are pretty much reflecting what we all are reflecting and I think that's why so many people can connect to their films."

They have also connected the world with Minnesota through "Fargo." At the time of its release the thick accents in the film ruffled a few Minnesota feathers. However, Mousley said it's an affectionate portrait with in-jokes only Minnesotans would get.

The Walker retrospective, officially entitled "Joel and Ethan Coen: Raising Cain" marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the Coens' first film, "Blood Simple."

"We are very pleased to say that the Walker showed that film in it's pre-release," Mousley said. "So there was a screening, actually two screenings, and then it opened at the Cooper Theater the next day."

"Blood Simple" is a film about a love triangle in Texas which spins off into murder and mayhem. It will open the 13-film retrospective at the Walker.

The high point of "Raising Cain" will be the Regis Dialog on Friday, Sept. 25.

"Joel and Ethan Coen will be interviewed by Elvis Mitchell, who is coming to do an on-stage conversation" Mousley said.

This is a rare public event for the notoriously reclusive Coen Brothers. However, executive producer Bob Graf, who is preparing for the release of the locally shot "A Serious Man," said this is a special case.

He says the Coen Brothers are so involved in the various aspects of their films, from the writing and the casting to the shooting and the editing, they are some of the fastest filmmakers around.

He doesn't think they have really reflected on the time elapsed since Blood Simple - it's just not their style.

"Probably it would flummox them to think about the fact that it has been 25 years," he said. "It just means that everyone's getting old."

"A Serious Man" got great reviews after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last week. The film will open in New York, Los Angeles and Minneapolis on Oct. 2. Graf, who is a Minneapolis native, believes the home audience will like it.

Retrospectives sometimes mark the end of a film career, but the Walker's Sheryl Mousley said that's definitely not the case for the Coens.

"They are pretty young yet, for working 25 years," she said. "I think they've got a lot of films in them yet. So it will be interesting to see of their larger body of work what they have yet to do."

"Joel and Ethan Coen: Raising Cain" runs through Oct. 17.

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