Film Notes: Fargo (1996) directed by Joel Coen revisited


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United States/98 minutes/ colour/PolyGram Filmed Entertainment in association with Working Title Films Dir: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (uncredited) Pr: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (uncredited) Scr: written by Joel and Ethan Coen Cine: Roger Deakins Mus: Carter Burwell Cast: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell and John Carroll Lynch.

Fargo earned seven Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Original Screenplay for the Coens and Best Actress in a Leading Role for McDormand. It also won the BAFTA Award and the Award for Best Director for Joel Coen at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.

Fargo (1996) is a self-proclaimed “homespun murder story” set in the white-washed, winter wilderness of the frozen and bleak Upper Midwest. An anomaly of categorization, the contemporary masterpiece is a film noir (with stark white vistas and backdrops), a satirical comedy, a suspenseful crime drama, and a violent mystery thriller. The Coen Brothers’ film is an original mix of black mirth and murder that both delights and disturbs the viewer. The dark comedy’s local color is provided by the flat-accented, dead-pan voices, regional dialect, and exaggerated, down-home mannerisms of the Midwestern characters and oft-repeated phrases such as “You betcha,” “Aw Jeez,” “You’re darn tootin’, “Okie-Dokie,” “Yup,” “Be there in a jif,” and “Yah.” And a number of incongruous dialogue sequences and extraneous minor characters appear without any real reason except to provide a fascinating journey along the way.

The off-beat, absurdist morality tale from the creative and original producing/writing/directing collaborative team of Joel and Ethan Coen is unlike many of their previous films, with a straight-forward, realistic narrative devoid of their typically quirky and bizarre sequences. It is more a return to their hometown roots and a remake of their debut film, Blood Simple (1983) – set in the hot extremes of Texas, a tale of another husband who hires a hit man to murder his wife.

A kidnapping gone awry, a triple homicide (a highway patrolman and two innocent passersby), two contrasting families (the male-dominated Lundegaards and the female-dominated Gundersons), the corruptible effects of fast food, TV watching and pecuniary greed, and a hapless extortion scheme make up the film’s story, but the major strong point is the realistic performances of the two leads:

  • William H. Macy is superb as the desperate, wretched and incompetent car salesman and hapless husband, who is pathetically in debt, and sets the uncontrollable chain of events into motion with an ill-fated plan to have his wife kidnapped and ransomed by extorting his wealthy father-in-law
  • Frances McDormand, appearing a third of the way into the film, perfectly portrays the astute, level-headed, warm-hearted (even in the frozen clime), persevering, smarter-than-she-appears pregnant local Chief of Police (supplemented with her loving relationship with her husband)

During the opening credits, a disclaimer states that Fargo’s story is a “true story” based on an actual kidnapping and murder case – although the white-on-black inter-title’s claim is questionable and has been disputed. [The end credits state: “The persons and events portrayed in this production are fictitious.”]

Although the film is named Fargo, the location of the initial scene in North Dakota, most of the film’s action is set in Minnesota (the towns of Brainerd and Minneapolis) and on the road to and from Fargo, during approximately a week of time in late January and early February. None of the film was shot in the city of Fargo. (Information taken from Filmsite Movie Review)

Begoña and I have had the opportunity to see Fargo over the last weekend. We had recently seen the homonymous TV series and we just wanted to remember a movie we both very much enjoyed. We were not disappointed at all. The Coens’ film is even better than what I remembered. A masterpiece. And while the TV series is downright excellent, in my opinion the film is far better, unforgettable.

Fargo official website

Roger Ebert review 

Notas de cine: Fargo (1996) dirigida por los hermanos Coen

Fargo obtuvo siete nominaciones a los Oscar, ganando dos, uno al Mejor Guión Original para los hermanos  Coen y otro a la mejor actriz principal para McDormand. También ganó el premio BAFTA y el Premio al Mejor Director para Joel Coen en el Festival de Cine de Cannes de 1996.

Fargo (1996) es una autodenominada “historia criminal casera” que se desarrolla en el blanco y salvaje invierno de la congelada y sombría parte superior del medio-oeste. Una categorización anómala, la obra maestra contemporánea es una película negra (con vistas blancas como telón de fondo), una comedia satírica, un drama policial lleno de suspense, y un violento thriller. La película de los hermanos Coen es una original mezcla de comedia negra y policial que, simultáneamente, hará las delicias y molestará al espectador. El color local de la comedia negra lo proporciona el peculiar acento del dialecto de la región que se pierde por completo en la versión doblada. Y por un número de secuencias con diálogos incongruentes, con personajes secundarios improcedentes que aparecen sin motivo alguno, aunque solo sea con el fin de proporcionarnos una viaje fascinante sobre la marcha.

El poco convencional, absurdo y original cuento moral producido/creado/escrito/dirigido y fruto de la colaboración de Joel y Ethan Coen cuenta, a diferencia de muchas de sus películas anteriores, con una estructura narrativa sencilla y realista, desprovista de sus típicas secuencias estrafalarias y disparatadas. Es más un retorno a sus raíces, a su ciudad natal y un remake de su primera película, Sangre fácil aka Simplemente sangre (1983) – ambientada en las altas temperaturas de Texas, un cuento de otro marido que contrata a un asesino a sueldo para matar a su esposa.

Un secuestro que sale mal, un triple homicidio (un policía de carreteras y dos inocentes que pasaban por allí), dos familias opuestas (los Lundegaards predominantemente masculina y los Gundersons predominantemente femenina), los efectos nefastos de la comida basura, de la televisión y de la codicia monetaria, junto con un fallido plan de extorsión, conforman la historia de la película, pero su principal punto fuerte es la interpretación tan realista de los dos protagonistas:

  • William H. Macy está soberbio como el desesperado, desgraciado e incompetente vendedor de coches, y desgraciado esposo, patéticamente endeudado, que pone en marcha una incontrolable cadena de acontecimientos con el funesto plan de secuestrar a su mujer y extorsionar así a su adinerado suegro pidiéndole un rescate.
  • Frances McDormand, que aparece una vez transcurrido el primer tercio de la película, interpreta a la perfección a una astuta, sensata, cálida (incluso en un clima congelador), perseverante, más inteligente de lo que parece y muy embarazada jefa de policía local (complementada con una tierna relación con su marido)

Tras los primeros créditos, se indica que la historia de Fargo es una “historia verdadera”, basada en un caso real sobre un secuestro y un asesinato –no obstante esta afirmación es puesta en cuestión y ha sido muy controvertida. [En los créditos del final se dice que: “Las personas y los eventos retratados en esta producción son ficticios.”]

Aunque la película se llama Fargo, sólo la escena inicial se desarrolla en Dakota del Norte, la mayor parte de la película tiene lugar en Minnesota (más concretamente en Brainerd y en Minneapolis), y en la carretera con dirección a Fargo (Dakota del Norte), durante poco más de una semana a finales de enero y principios de febrero. Ninguna de las escenas de la película está rodada en Fargo. (Información tomada de Filmsite Movie Review) (mi traducción libre).

Begoña y yo hemos tenido la oportunidad de ver Fargo durante el último fin de semana. Habíamos visto recientemente la serie de televisión del mismo título y sólo queríamos recordar una película que ambos disfrutamos mucho. No nos decepcionó en absoluto. La película de los Coen es incluso mejor que lo que yo recordaba. Una obra maestra. Y mientras que la serie de televisión es francamente excelente, en mi opinión, la película es mucho mejor, inolvidable.

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4 thoughts on “Film Notes: Fargo (1996) directed by Joel Coen revisited

  1. Jose Ignacio: It is one of the few Hollywood movies I have watched that really reflected the personalities and language of mid-America. The phrases are used by Minnesotans.

    I have always wondered why they called it “Fargo” when the movie is set in Minnesota. When I first watched it I kept waiting for the plot to take the characters to Fargo. When it did not happen I felt a touch misled by the film makers.

    1. Thank you for your comment Bill. As you probably know I had lived in Minnesota for one year. It was quite a hard winter and I do remember T-shirts with the words: I’m a survivor of Minnesota winter 1981-82, though probably those T-shirts are for sale every year. Anyway You are right to mention that the Coen brothers really reflected the personalities and language of mid-Americans.
      As far as the title is concerned I think that’s another joke by the Coens, like the one about the plot based on real events..

  2. I watched the movie ages ago, and I still don’t like seeing a woodchipper in action. What a vivid scene! I hope to get to the tv series soon.

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