#GFF16 Opening Gala HAIL, CAESAR!

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Director Joel and Ethan Coen  Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson UK Release Date 4th of March 2016

As the free prosecco was popping, and the festival goodie bags were distributed, an extensive crowd congregated in Glasgow’s infamous GFT to celebrate one of the festival’s highlights – the Scottish premiere of the Coen brothers’ new gem, HAIL, CAESAR! The festival’s co-director, Allison Gardner, who was chaperoned by a couple of real-life Roman warrior models (which she highly enjoyed, as she later admitted), took a moment to thank the public and everyone’s hard work – everyone who keeps the magic happening for eight consecutive, glorious years, making GFF one one of the most coveted UK film festivals.

Unfortunately, none of the cast were present on the red carpet, yet, as Allison rightly underscored, at the end of the day, GFF is run by the people and for the people, and the lack of Hollywood megastars did not take away any credibility or agency from the festival. Quite the opposite: it highlighted the sense of community and humanity that makes GFF stand out from its counterparts.

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What Coen brothers deliver with HAIL, CAESAR! is a supremely packaged and wonderfully executed farcical tale on the superficiality, hypocrisy and money-crazed microcosm of the early Hollywood studio system. The film digs beneath all the fake Hollywood smiles and perfectly choreographed dances to excavate the bitter truths about soul-wrecking monsters that were Hollywood producers of that time.

Anyone familiar with Coen brothers’ oeuvre would be quite surprised with how much the brothers shifted, both thematically and aesthetically, from their most recent films like INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and TRUE GRIT, and went back to doing what they probably do best – create a brilliant laugh-out-loud pastiche that takes pride in its own slapstick qualities.

With HAIL, CAESAR! they delve deeper into their filmography and churn out an absolutely hilarious comedy that resonates the artful sarcasm of O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, THE BIG LEBOWSKI and FARGO. Most of the people probably forgot that Joel and Ethan Coen, who are so good at delivering gritty life dramas, are still capable of using their fantastic sense of irony. Which, as a matter of fact, they employ so well in HAIL, CAESAR! in order to mock the vicious and callous 1950s Hollywood machine, which, in a manner of George Orwell’s Big Brother, destroyed any existing sense of humanity from its working members.

And what a better way to do it than recreating the inside mechanics of the studios together with its gossip-obsessed journalists, token movie stars, behind-the-scenes dramas and undercover communist parties. And this is just regular day in a life of a big studio: the huge blockbuster star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), well known for his affairs and drinking problems, gets kidnapped during filming of a Jesus Christ movie. The female megastar and a single mother DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) needs to adopt her own baby in order to look more presentable for her viewers. And a southern rising star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who found his fame riding horses and shooting guns in numerous westerns (but who, unfortunately, does not shine with much eloquence), gets assigned a sophisticated glamorous drama much to the disdain of an eccentric director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).

But the head of the studio Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is more than happy to deal with the perpetual troubles and demands of his bosses and cast alike. His job is his source of never-stopping headaches but also what made him happy and satisfied because he could not imagine doing anything else but managing a Pandora’s box. And this is what is the most upsetting about the whole story – how a person tries so hard to submit to the system and be useful to it and does not realise how he is only becoming another pawn in its

As it might seem from the first glance, the story does not sophisticatedly develop into a grand denouement  with a clear ending and a neatly folded moral. Which could seem as lazy move from the filmmakers, yet let’s be honest – we do not need Coen brothers to get all serious and preach-y with their audience. Do not wait for a moment with a greater meaning – what we really need to enjoy is how brilliantly they recreated all the artifice and surface values of the Hollywood’s golden days, that were cracking from the weight of their own imperfections. HAIL, CAESAR! feeds of its self-conscious reflections and we can only admire such efforts. Could not have asked for a more perfect start to a festival.

The Final Word: A fantastic pastiche from the depths of the Coen brothers’ back archives

This article was guest written by Julia Malahovska @juicedotjuice

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