Mar 20, 2015

Alternative to What: "Fargo" (1996)

Steve Buscemi
Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

Fargo (1996)
- Alternative To -
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2015)

In this week's entry, it does feel like sort of a lazy cheat. Where some weeks could see me pick a film that is either a remake or thematic similarity whether it be director or performer, I have chosen one more blatant than that. In fact, it might actually help you to understand Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. While it isn't one of the major releases this weekend, it still is a movie with a plot so peculiar that it is likely to find a cult audience really quickly. With great reviews abound, it also may end up being talked about for the rest of the year. However, it couldn't be more reliant on an older film than it is on the Coen Brothers classic Fargo. For you see, Fargo is actually in the subject line of the film.
For those that don't know, the plot of the new film is actually based on a true story. The story follows a Japanese woman as she travels to North Dakota to find the hidden treasure that is shown in Fargo. There's also a bunny sidekick. For those that have followed my other series called Trailing Off, there is a chance that you are already familiar with the trailer and its star Rinko Kikuchi. However, this is all that I know as of this writing and am very curious to check it out when it becomes readily available. For now, I have one request to make: watch Fargo.
Yes, it seems like an odd thing to ask, but Fargo is itself a great film that deals with all sorts of madcap twists on film noir tropes. With great performances by Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi, it is a film that relishes in its absurdity and is darkly funny. It will also explain the origin of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter in grander detail and explain why somebody would even think to look for a bag hidden in the snow in a small North Dakota town. It may seem like a really dumb premise, but it is also one of the most original and peculiar stories out there.

It isn't hard to really sell anyone on seeing Fargo. In light of the FX TV series, the film has come back into public discussion and has created one of the oddest franchises out there. More than anything, it embodies a strange dichotomy of life in middle America. For starters, the film subverts cynicism by placing it in one of the most wholesome settings out there. The city is covered in snow and everyone talks with cutesy accents and have innocent trains of thoughts. It is about as white and good natured as things get. This is important to note largely because any of the greediness and violence that follows is supplanted into the landscape in a manner that can be perceived as disturbing.
In fact, it is why the story works. Where film noir has been notoriously in the shadows, Fargo is covered in snow, sometimes hiding secrets underneath. What is most appealing about the story beyond the supplanting of different behavior patterns is that it is a morality tale of how good will always triumph. With nuanced humor and some oddballs, it manages to make for a journey into one of the most unique stories of the 90's and one of the most accessible embodiment of Coen Brothers culture. 
So while I am unsure how it ties into Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, I do feel like it would be advisable to see Fargo before actually seeing it. If for no other reason, it allows the story to be given depth and a bigger appreciation. What's stranger is that the new film is based on a true story about looking into a film that was not but said it was based on a true story anyways. It was a charade that only adds to the mysticism of the film and will hopefully be able to capture what life is like when a different culture goes into North Dakota and enters one of the whitest places out there. 

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