What to say about new Charlie Kaufman film Synecdoche, New York (out today)? It's confusing, exasperating, even depressing and figuring out how to pronounce the title (Sih-neck-doh-kee) will be the least of your worries. But that shouldn't stop you going to see it.
Kaufman is commonly referred to as the industry's most original screenwriter, having broken through with Being John Malkovich, before Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation helped cement his reputation as something of a Hollywood one-off. No surprise then that his directorial debut has garnered such anticipation.
But where Being John Malkovich laced its pathos with a lively dose of absurdist humour, Synecdoche is a more harrowing watch. Hoffman's theatre director around which the film revolves is a man in silent despair. His work no longer engages him, his relationships are overshadowed by regret, his wife has left him for sexual and artistic liberation in Berlin - even his shrink doesn't give him the time of day. Oh, and he's got a degenerative nervous disorder to boot. But with the announcement of an artistic scholarship, comes the opportunity to confront his fears and insecurities head on - through the reconstruction of a life-size replica of the world outside.
There are, what fans might call, Kaufmanesque touches early on - most notably when Samantha Morton's character is shown around a house that is perennially on fire, but as the film progresses, the tragic overtones dominate and Kaufman's chosen themes - futility, ageing and loss - are played with an increasingly straight face.
As Kaufman told Esquire, it's ultimately a film of tremendous sorrow: "I like that way of describing it more than I like saying it's gloomy. I think sorrow is a big part of the human experience...That's human. I feel that by saying this you're not depressing people, you're connecting to them." Read the full interview with Charlie Kaufman in the June issue