The Coen Brothers’ “Tuileries” (2006)

Notable Festivals: Cannes (Un Certain Regard)

In 2006, a film called PARIS, JE T’AIME premiered with a unique concept.  It was an omnibus film, consisting of twenty separate shorts directed by twenty different directors.  The common thread uniting them was that timeless city of light, Paris.  It was well-received, spawning a series of similar anthology films built around a single city (New York, Rio, Jerusalem, etc…).

Joel and Ethan Coen served as contributors to PARIS, JE T’AIME, ultimately creating one of the best shorts of the project.  Their piece, entitled TUILERIES after the Parisian subway station, concerns an American tourist: Coen regular Steve Buscemi.  He’s sitting in a station, waiting for his train and reading his tourism book.  One passage encourages him never to make eye contact with others on the subway, which of course he does.  He’s caught staring at a pair of young, hotheaded lovers (Axel Kiener and Julie Bataille), who begin accosting him belligerently.  As the young woman uses Buscemi to instill jealousy in her boyfriend, Buscemi quickly finds himself in over his head.

The short is no more than five minutes long, but the Coens are able to pack a great deal of their specific brand of comedy and quirk into the piece.  They are able to effortlessly convey a complicated comedic scenario using only French dialogue (no subtitles) and Buscemi’s increasingly confused facial expressions.  The action builds to a fever pitch, leading to the angry young Frenchman pouring Buscemi’s tourist trinkets all over him before waltzing off with his girl, their own relationship troubles seemingly forgotten.

The film is shot by Bruno Delbonnel, in a departure from the Coens’ usual cinematographer Roger Deakins.  However, Delbonnel stays faithful to the Coens’ established look- 35mm fill framed with a 1.85:! aspect ratio, wide compositions interspersed with detailed close-ups, etc.  The subterranean location is rendered in a saturated amber hue that’s romantic and wistful– a device that lulls Buscemi’s American tourist into a complacent state.  Music is included via the diagetic presence of a street perfumer strumming a classical guitar tune.

Even at its short length, the Coens’ distinct touch is immediately apparent.  The shortform medium limitations and self-imposed dialogue restrictions on Buscemi’s part allows the Coens to really dig into what they do best: outlandish characters getting into absurd scenarios with unexpected results.

TUILERIES is only the second short film the Coens have made to date (if you’re counting Joel’s student film SOUNDINGS), but it’s just as good as much of their feature work.  It’s like those little bite-sized candy bars you get at Halloween, except instead of chocolate… it’s Coen.

TUILERIES is currently available on high definition Blu Ray as part of the PARIS JE T’AIME anthology film via First Look Pictures (as well as in its entirety via the Youtube stream above).