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Berlinale Film Festival opens with 'Hail, Caesar!'

Jochen Kürten / ssFebruary 11, 2016

The Coen brothers delivered the perfect opening film for the 66th Berlinale festival. The red carpet was teeming with celebrities from the satire "Hail, Caesar!" as Berlin hosted Hollywood's A-list.

Red carpet at the Berlinale 2016
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

When it comes to comedy, there are hardly any other names out there that can guarantee both incessant laugher and great dialogue in film like Joel and Ethan Coen can. The Berlinale 2016 could not have picked a better movie for its opening night than the Coen brothers' "Hail, Caesar!" It balances predictable expectations of high-brow aesthetics against knee-slapping comedy entertainment.

"Hail, Caesar!" looks back at the dusk of the golden age of the silver screen. The Coen brothers transport audiences to the 1950s while featuring current-day big names like George Clooney, Josh Brolin and Scarlett Johansson. There could not be a more enjoyable way to open the festival.

The Coen brothers' reckoning with Hollywood

In his role as up-and-coming executive Eddie Mannix, Brolin goes around town fixing every last gaffe and blunder in Hollywood, while George Clooney plays movie star Baird Whitlock, whose sudden disappearance causes havoc on the film set of swords-and-sandals epic "Hail, Caesar!"

Mannix jumps into action like a pro when news emerge that a US-based Communist movement is behind Whitlock's abduction; a clever wink on part of the Coen brothers at McCarthyism and its effects on the film industry.

George Clooney in "Hail, Caesar!"
George Clooney's character Baird Whitlock is abducted by a group of CommunistsImage: Universal Pictures

This could be the greatest challenge in Mannix' career to date, but as luck would have it he happens to receive a lucrative new job offer about the same time, which he has to mull over while addressing one showbiz crisis after the next.

Mannix appears to be in a dozen places at the same time while trying to keep his cool despite being hounded by a twin-duo of tabloid journalists wherever he goes (played by Tilda Swinton in an ingenious double role). His tireless exercise in damage control is brought to the fore once more when unmarried starlet DeeAnna Moran (played by Scarlett Johansson) falls pregnant out of wedlock, a potential threat to her public image.

An homage hidden in satire

The brilliance of "Hail, Caesar!" lies in its obvious lack of subtleties, with every single role deliberately cast to go against the public image of the Hollywood heavyweights featured in the film.

With Clooney playing the narcissist, Johansson portraying a diva, and Swinton epitomizing the sensationalist press, the Coen brothers managed to create a masterpiece of comedy, employing humor to look beneath the polished veneer of Hollywood. Entire stretches of narrative take place on film sets, referencing everything from film noir to musical theater in minute detail while intimating that behind all the glitz and glamour of showbiz there lurks a more sinister realm characterized by greed, narcissism and hypocrisy.

Scarlett Johansson in "Hail, Caesar!"
Scarlett Johansson plays film diva DeeAnna MoranImage: Universal Pictures

Some of the scenes in the movie could even go down in film history for the sheer pleasure found in such a celebration of hilarity.

Ethan and Joel Coen
The Coen brothers have created a unique comedy while doing justice to the style of the 1950sImage: Getty Images/P. Le Segretain

"Hail, Caesar!" is certainly not intended to provide an in-depth expose about the dark side of the movie business. Instead, it allows itself to take artistic license and look at Hollywood in a silly way, which, in and of itself, is an unprecedented accomplishment.

Regardless of the generous application of hyperbole throughout the film, the Coen brothers have succeeded in creating an amazing homage to the kind of craftsmanship that was found across the film industry of the 1950s while also striking comedic gold.