Joel Coen, one of America’s best, most influential filmmakers and screenwriters, will appear in person in a popular program next month at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive for a week-long retrospective of his work. 

Without a doubt, it’s one of the most significant Bay Area cinematic highlights this season. 

Coen and his brother Ethan have made some of the most essential and memorable indie film classics, including “Blood Simple,” “No Country for Old Men” and “Raising Arizona.” 

From Jan. 21-29, Pacific Film Archive is hosting Coen in post-screening conversations about his films and others features that inspired him.

While event is sold out, be on the lookout for possible openings due to cancellations. 

“Joel Coen in Person” kicks off at 3 p.m. Jan. 21 with a presentation of a restored 35mm version of F.W Murnau’s 1927 silent classic “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano, followed by Coen speaking on why it’s a classic.

Coen broke away from collaborating with his brother for his gorgeous B&W, moody take of a Shakespeare classic in 2021’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Featuring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand chewing it up as the guilt-plagued couple with fatal political ambitions, it’s a pared-down version of the Bard boasting a dizzying number of striking visual images that create a bewitching atmosphere best appreciated with multiple viewings. Coen, McDormand (who’s married to Joel) and film critic Eileen Jones discuss the making of the film at 7 p.m. Jan. 21. 

Released in 1987, John Huston’s “The Dead,” one of last century’s finest feature films, came from James Joyce’s classic 1914 “Dubliners” story collection. At 4 p.m. Jan. 22, Coen hosts a conversation on how the movie that’s centered around a party one Dublin evening holds personal and professional significance.

One of my favorite Coen Brothers features remains the cantankerous 2013 character study “Inside Llewyn Davis.” The versatile Oscar Isaac plays a wonderfully disheveled hot mess of a 1960s New York folk singer, a rascal who encounters eccentrics and a cat, as he tries to make it in a profession that doesn’t hand out life jackets. The period details are fantastic and the tone shifts from comedy to absurdity within seconds. Coen will discuss the film at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 with Timothy Hampton, whose 2020 book “Bob Dylan: How the Songs Work” makes for a beautiful pairing with the film.

Oscar Isaac is excellent in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” screening on Jan. 22 in Berkeley. (Courtesy StudioCanal)

Many film buffs consider the 1963 John Sturges film “The Great Escape” with Steve McQueen to be one of the greatest prison breakout movies ever made. Justly so. But Jacques Becker’s lesser-known 1960 French feature “Le trou,” based on an autobiographical novel, commands equal respect and is far more complex. Why is it one of Coen’s favorites? Find out after the 3:30 p.m. Jan. 28 screening.

Gangster movies were all the rage the latter part of last century. Among the best of the bloody lot is 1990’s “Miller’s Crossing.” When it came out, it unfortunately got compared to Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” a silly and short-sighted criticism. “Crossing” is one of the Coens’ best if most brutal films. Set during the Prohibition and inspired by two Dashiell Hammett novels, it features gripping cinematography and acting by Gabriel Bryne, Albert Finney and Marcia Gay Harden. A director’s cut screens at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 with Coen in conversation with writer Mark Danner, a former New Yorker staffer.

The late, great French filmmaker Robert Bresson, the deserving subject of many retrospectives, made the 1956 existential thought-provoker “A Man Escaped.” Set in a prison, it takes a look at the interior life of a French Resistance fighter. Coen talks about the classic after the 4 p.m. screening Jan. 29.

The series concludes with the wonderfully erudite and literary “A Serious Man” starring the captivating Michael Stuhlbarg. The 2009 film is painfully funny and intimate as it goes through the dramatic arc of a Jewish professor’s life and touches on his faith and his doubts about his landing place in this weird universe. Coen will be joined by painter and writer Eric Karpeles after the 7 p.m. Jan. 29 screening.

Can’t score a ticket? While you won’t be able to hear Coen’s commentary, most of these films may be rented or streamed online on various platforms. For more details about the BAMPFA program, visit https://bampfa.org/program/joel-coen. 

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