Produced by Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by the Coen Brothers recalls, in its structure, the original idea of this film, a series of shorts/episodes dedicated to the myth of the Old West. And in these stories death – curiously enough, always caused by human hand and never by Nature – freely roams through shootings, caravans, indiand and miserable showmen; as required by ballads, the atmosphere concocted by Joel and Ethan lacks in sharpness but abounds in sadness.
Here follow three rewiews, quite different but equally powerful, by Sofia, Margherita and Elena.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – as seen by Sofia Brugali
In their new artwork, the Coen brothers deal again with a Western setting through six heterogeneous short films, linked by a simple framework in which a hand leafs through a collection of short stories titled The ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tales of the American frontier. Since they were meant to be the episodes of a series, the shorts show different themes and techniques, while the setting is the same, the American landscape made of ample prairies and mountain forests: that’s why the spectator feels alienated while watching the two-hours movie, in which he gets to know and then loses a lot of characters, while having the time to empathize with them. The stories consist of a fast flow of lives, tragicomic existences which are taking their path to death, indifferent to the surrounding nature: the greatness of cowboys’ deeds, the mythical aura of their endeavours, even the heroism of everyday life and the immutability of death, everything seems to be unfounded in front of human being’s trifle.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – as seen by Margherita Fontana
With The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (and Other Tales From The American Frontier) the Coen brothers become novelists from the 1800s, building an anthology of six short films, thought as tribute to the Western imagery. The pages of this old book full of illustrations, turn in front of us as it happens at the beginning of a Disney classic. However the ending of each episode isn’t really cartoon-wise: at the end someone dies (and usually in a bad way). Fifty shades of deaths – surreal, grotesque, dramatic, pointless, accidental – that seem to be the fil rouge of the film which tracks the path from an Assumption to the heavens and to the descent to the hell. The End, sung by the Coens isn’t only the one of a cinematographic genre, but also the one of the culture (better a chicken that can entertain the fool than a Shakespearean actor, whose body is already seriously damaged). In other words this moral content, placed in a plot not enough edgy to be satirical (or at least funny), turns this anthology of apologues into a real drag.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – as seen by Elena Saltarelli
This anthology, which bears the signature of the Coen Brothers, could be summed up, at least at a level of pure impact on the viewer, with two words.
The first word is charm: the charm, first of all, of the genre they decided to investigate, i.e. the western, a genre which bears with dignity its age and whose long roots are entwined with the myth of the West, that since the 50s of the XIX century laid the foundation of world cinematography with shootings, horse races and leather boots. A genre that the two directors have readjusted perfectly to a contemporary and post-contemporary public, with a superb demonstration of direction and without ever falling into a trivial series of quotations of the greats of the past or into a nostalgic rereading about those “good – but not so much – ol’ days”. Secondly, the charm of the the narration, evocative and compelling, in which the characters are the real masters of the boundless meads: they’ve always been the strong point of the Coen’s direction, figures that a with few and striking phrases remain fixed in your imagination for their psychologic and expressive depth.
Everything into this work had charm to sell: the opening by way of musical western (a hybrid genre that had its height of popularity in the early 50s); the rhythmic but unexpected alternation of funny and dramatic moments; Tom Waits in the role of a gold digger (my heart – which was not informed before the movie – skipped a beat).
The second word is death. Every single episode of the tales collected from the Coen’s has as a common element death, whether it is dramatic and unfair, deliberate and spectacularized, inevitable but disconcerting. It starts off with the death of the ballad singer Buster Scruggs, and it carries on on through executions, shootings and battles; death approaches lightly in the case of the sad end of the street actor without legs and arms, or in the case of the insecure suicide of the young girl attacked by the Red Indians. In my opinion death is the real main character of the anthology, because that was it into the endless and desert meads of the Old West; a place and a time that gave little hope for a long life to those who lived through it.
Concluding, the film has confirmed how these two directors can conjugate refinement and quality with an unexpected lightness, a thing absolutely not easy and surely not for everyone.