Coup! (2023) Venice Film Festival | Venice Days 2023

September 8th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Austin Stark, Joseph Schuman | Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Magnussen, Sarah Gadon | US Action Drama 98′

This darkly comic upstairs-downstairs satire harks back to another pandemic this time the tragic Spanish ‘Flu outbreak in 1918.

Coup! also features an invasive force of another kind in the style of Teorema or The Servant when a gun-slinging grifter from the Deep South arrives at the Hamptons island retreat of a wealthy family to cook for them during their glorious isolation.

The opening sees Floyd Monk (Peter Sarsgaard stealing the show) looking down on the body of man with a gunshot wound to his head. Meanwhile out in the streets bodies are mounting up due to the arrival of a fatal flu from Spain.

First time filmmakers Austin Stark and Joseph Schuman set the scene with with black and white news footage of the tragedy that swept through North America causing more casualties than the World War itself.

But the outbreak has so far avoided the island where Jay Horton and his wife Jules are secretly holed up in their palatial mansion. And this where Floyd fetches up as the new cook. The laidback, card player has a seditious streak immediately starts a low-key rebellion downstairs inciting the other members of staff, a chauffeur (Faran Tahir) and a housemaid (Skye P Marshall) to join in. But the wary longterm housekeeper Mrs McMurray Kristine Nielsen), will have none of it, and immediately orders him to make an eggplant casserole supper for his new boss.

Insurrection is now in the air, as well as the virus, as Floyd stages a coup. Meanwhile Horton, a progressive vegetarian journalist – who also purports to be a humanitarian boss – encourages his staff to be aspirational while he himself fosters political ambitions, although some hail him to be a  ‘muck-raker’. Pretending to still be on the thick of it back in the big City, he also emerges as rather deceitful, writes a ill-judged piece for a local rag accusing the president of mishandling the pandemic.

Back in the ‘Big Smoke’ mass protests are being staged against the president and his mishandling of the pandemic, and McCarthy is injured in a mêlée at the market, while buying food. Floyd the opportunity of her absence to encourage the staff uprising requesting horton to double their wages, and staff quarters (for their protection) which he agrees to do. But a strict lockdown soon sees all cut off from the mainland and encouraged to kill the local fauna to stay alive, a practice that Jay Horton opposes on humanitarian grounds, but is soon forced to change his mind when his wife and family demand to be fed. And Although Floyd is clearly a better shot and a far superior survivor than his cowardly boss: (“At times like these nature has a way of bringing out the beast in some, and the beauty in others”) the hobo, in a clever move, makes sure he passes the glory onto Jay. And when they all tuck into venison the mood is decidedly upbeat.

Determined not to be outdone, Jay thinks he can rumble Floyd but the hobo is cleverer than he gives him credit for. And it appears there’s been a case of mistaken identity in this louche little thriller carried by Sarsgaard with a glint in his eye and Sarah Gadon who turns how to be rather a dark horse. The denouement is both satisfying and unexpected. MT


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