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Editor | Peter Bowen

What Nice Jewish Boys!

Posted March 31, 2008

What Nice Jewish Boys! Image

Last Friday, Ben Walters in his blog for the British newspaper The Guardian explored a rarely discussed aspect of the Coen Brothers' oeuvre. Critics and writers have fully explored Joel and Ethan's distinct American humor, their Midwestern-ness, their neo-noir roots, and their fraternal bond. But rarely have writers considered, as Walters does, "How the Coens Found their Inner Jew." Walter's writes: "Steven Spielberg famously found his inner Jew while preparing to make Schindler's List, embracing a part of his cultural identity that had previously been more or less invisible in his work. Things are a little less clear-cut for Joel and Ethan Coen, as one might expect of film-makers renowned for a delight in mischief and ambiguity. From near the beginning of their career, a thread of Jewishness has run through the odd tapestry of their work, one of many sources of humour and tension, often at the same time. But it's now set to come to the fore as never before in two features currently in pre-production."

While their next film, Burn After Reading, a romp involving a possible CIA tell-all memoir with Brad Pitt and George Clooney (due out from Focus Features) isn't particularly Jewish, the next two are. A Serious Man (also from Focus Features) will start shooting in the Coen's old Minnesota stomping ground. But unlike the Scandinavian Fargo, A Serious Man looks at the Jewish neighborhood. According to Walters, "A Serious Man will be seriously Jewish. Set in 1967 and located within the town's Jewish community, it focuses on a college professor seeking advice from several rabbis while in the throes of domestic and professional crises. Although the plot isn't autobiographical, the Coens will draw on their own experiences in this environment, including attending Hebrew school and being the adolescent children of academics. The picture also reportedly includes a sequence set in Poland a century ago, involving a rabbi and Jewish wedding customs and superstitions, which will be spoken entirely in Yiddish."

And after that, they will adapt Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, a murder mystery set in Alaska, which (in Chabon's version of the world) had been settled and turned into a Jewish state after World War II.