7.3 Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
7.2 Down by Law (1986)
7.1 Mystery Train (1989)
6.7 Night on Earth (1991)
7.4 Dead Man (1995)
7.0 Ghost Dog (1999)
6.8 Broken Flowers (2005)
The Limits of Control (2009)
6.9 Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
7.3 Paterson (2016)
Jim Jarmusch (USA, 1953), originally a musician of the new wave scene in New York, debuted with the mediocre
Permanent Vacation (1980) but soon emerged as a major talent thanks to
his second film,
Stranger Than Paradise (1984).
Eva arrives from Hungary to New York and her cousin Willie is informed at the last moment that he has to take care of her for ten days. Eva stays in his humble apartment and meets the only friend of Willie, Eddie. In those ten days Willie can hardly stand her, but in the end he is upset to see her leaving. Eva moves to her auntís place in Cleveland. A year later Willie and Eddie manage to make some money by cheating playing poker and they decide to visit Eva in Cleveland. The aunt receives them with affection, Eva is pleasantly surprised. After a few days of resting, the two boys decide to go to Florida and convince Eva to go with them. The journey is long and hexhausting. During a pause in a motel the two friends decide to bet at the horseracing and nearly loose all of their money. Eva in the mean time is given a large amount of money from a gangster who made a mistake. Eva goes to the airport to buy a ticket to Europe, but the only flight available is to Budapest and she doesnít feel up for it.
Willie, convinced she is on that airplane, buys a ticket to board the airplane and convince her to come down.
Instead he gets stuck on the airplane. Eddie sees the airplane leaving. Eva returns to the motel.
Dow by law (1986)
Black and white. Poor country of Louisiana. Lurie is in bed with a black woman. Waits, disc jockey, is in bed with another woman, blond hair, she is furious because he keeps on loosing his jobs. At night, Waits is walking alone on the dirty sidewalks. The other black woman derides Lurie, another looser. A fat friend goes to visit Lurie in order to make it up with him: he brought a young girl as a gift. Lurie is skeptical but accepts to go and see the girl at the motel nearby. Outside in the street there are only prostitutes and protectors. Itís a trap: in the room there is a child and Lurie gets arrested by the police. Tom Waits is drunk and meets Benigni, an immigrant who takes notes to learn English. A friend of Waits asks him to take care of a stolen car. Also this one is a trap: the police arrests him and finds a corpse in the boot. In jail Waits and Lurie find themselves in the same cell, both innocents and both harmless, hostiles to one another but actually very similar. When Lurie discovers that Waits is a disc jockey, finally the two open themselves and become friends. But then they argue and they have a fight. Benigni is jealed in their same cell. He can only say the sentences he wrote down. He is despised by Waits and Lurie. But when he reveals that he has murdered a man in a brawl finally the atmosphere relaxes. And itís just Benigni to convince them to try the escape. The companions help Benigni to swim and avoid the hunting of the dogs. They walk in the swamp until they find shelter in a room that looks exactly like their cell. They take a boat but they get lost in the swamp and the boat is sunk in quicksands. Waits and Lurie argue again and take different ways, in the middle of the night, while Benigni capture and cooks a rabbit. But after a while both return to eat the rabbit. The day after they finally arrive to a road, but they do not know which way to go. They take a random direction and they arrive to a house, where is living an Italian girl. She gets close to Benigni. Actually they immediately fall in love and Benigni decides to stay. The others two set out again. Once they get to a crossroad, they decide to separate. The first and the second half are completely different. The first part is an interesting cross-section of the slums, which suddenly interrupts as soon as the two protagonists end up in jail, the second is a bad comedy, held on poor gags and trying to play with benigniís verve. But every gag lasts too long, and it doesnít bring anything to the topic of the film.
Mystery Train (1989), his first color film, is mainly about the depressed atmosphere of a run-down civilization. The stories do not intersect, except in the location where they end: the hotel. The real protagonists are therefore the front-desk clerk and the bellboy, who actually never move from the hotel. They observe and bless. They let the dreamers in. Memphis is a city haunted by all the tourists and citizens who walked in Memphis obsessed by the ghost of Presley. Memphis is a sort of shrine where a ritual is performed day and night, but it is one melancholy ritual. The landscape of Jarmusch's film seems to have erased modernity: the buildings and the streets are still there, but there is no sign of America's modern life, of business, of traffic, of shppping. Jarmusch removes life from the city. Unfortunately, he cannot fill it with the buildings and the crowds that used to live there in the old days, so the landscape is reduced to an empty city inhabited by ghosts.
An Italian woman makes a phone call from the airport to warn her relatives that she has been stranded in Memphis with the body of her dead husband. She taxes a taxi to downtown, She enters a newstand to buy a newspaper and ends up buying a whole bunch of magazines. At the restaurant, she is ripped off by somebody who sells her Elvis' comb. Afraid of being followed, she runs into the same hotel and meets another lonely woman. They decide to share a room for the night. The American talks a lot about the boyfriend she just left, then she falls asleep. The Italian woman, instead, sees the ghost of Elvis and can't fall asleep. In the morning, the American doesn't have money to pay and the extremely naive Italian gives her even some cash. As they are leaving, they hear a gunshot.
Three young men get drunk led by a wild Englishman rob a liquor store, kill the owner and then take shelter at the same hotel. In the morning they argue and that's the source of the gunshot. The bellboy opens the door to check what went on (one of the man is wonded), but then simply walks back to the front desk.
The Japanese tourists are back on the train. They briefly meet the American woman who shared the room with the Italian. The Italian is at the airport, bording the flight to Rome. The three punks take off on a pick-up truck, chased by a police car, while the train is rolling by.
Night on Earth (1991) chronicles five brief encounters that occur in five taxis on the same night in five major metropolis of the world.
A black man in freezing Manhattan is desperately trying to find a cab, but no cab stops. Finally one stops, but the driver is a foreigner who doesn't know New York, and doesn't even know how to drive. So the passenger takes the wheel, and the cab driver (a former clown in East Germany) becomes the passenger. They become friends, and at the end, when he reaches his destination, the New Yorker is worried for the good German who will never find his way back.
In Paris, a black cab driver who has just dumped two drunk and offensive black passengers, picks up a blind woman. The woman has an arrogant attitude, but the driver respects the fact that this blind woman is not afraid of walking alone in the middle of the night. When he drops her off and tells her "watch out for yourself", she replies "you watch out". Seconds later, he is hit by a car while she walks quietly along the canal.
In a deserted Rome, a crazy cab driver wearing sunglasses (Benigni) picks up a priest. While the priest is having a heart attack, the cab driver keeps talking and talking and talking, mainly describing his erotic adventures with a sheep and his sister-in-law. When he finally realizes that the priest has died, the cab driver dumps the corpse on a park bench.
The fifth episode (in Helsinki) is a tribute to Kaurismaki.
Dead Man (1995) is a Tarkovsky-ian western.
William Blake is a young man newly orphaned by his parents and left by his girlfriend who is traveling on a train bound for the Wild West, dressed as a citizen among rough pioneers. William has found a job at the factory in a remote town, Machine. The factory is a monstrous mechanism, and the men who work there are as beastly as those who live outside. The owner, Dickinson, throws him out, as his place has already been given to another accountant. Blake, who has spent all his savings on the trip, finds consolation in a pretty flower girl, who immediately takes him to her home. The two are surprised, however, by the girl's boyfriend. The boyfriend shoots, but the girl shields Blake, who in turn grabs the girl's gun and kills the boyfriend. Blake is thus initiated into the brada violence of the Frontier. William steals a horse and flees into the woods.
The murdered is Dickinson's son, who vows revenge: he hires three of the most notorious killers, puts a bounty on the fugitive, and has telegrams sent to all the sheriffs in the area. The three are low-ranking scoundrels and immediately set out on Blake`s trail.
Jarmusch offers a very realistic detail of life at the time, sometimes brutal but always faithful. The protagonists and extras are men broken to all labors. If the human landscape is extremely degraded, the natural landscape is epic. Decadent Western and picaresque adventure. Extreme violence and brutality: cannibals, murders, rape, etc. Each scene lasts a few seconds and ends in a fade-out.
Ghost Dog (1999)
The problem is that the dead man was one of the "family" and now the mafia has to keep up with its rituals and kill the killer. Louie is summoned and ordered to execute his favorite killer, even if Ghost Dog has served his for years like a faithful servant. Louie saved his life once and Ghost Dog has returned the favor by making Louie his master.
Ghost Dog has only one friend, the ice cream vendor at the park who doesn't even speak english. They can't really communicate, but they like each other. A little child tries to talk to Ghost Dog but Ghost Dog is not talkative. He gives her the novel, though, and asks her to read it.
The gangsters are already chasing him. They kill the wrong man on the roof. Ghost Dog understands that they want him dead. He meets Louie who wants to warn him more than kill him, and saves his life when a killer tries to kill him too.
Ghost Dog spends all his time refining his high-tech weapons, training the pigeons and reading his samurai book. He never smiles.
When they kill all his birds, Ghost Dog packs his things and sets himself out to take revenge.
The gangsters are meeting (Vargos is watching cartoons on tv, Sonny is arguing with the landlord who demands his rent paid, the gangsters are aging). They decide to move to Vargos castle.
Ghost Dog steals a sport car (he only steals luxury cars with CD players), robs a man and his girlfriend of their clothes and drives towards the gangster's castle. The gangsters are watching cartoons. So is Vargon in the limo with Louise. Ghost Dog is ready to kill him when he steps out of the limo, but a bird sits on the cane of his gun. Ghost Dog has to drive inside the compound (thanks to one of his devices) and attack the whole mob. He kills everybody including Vargos, but spares again Louise who recognizes him. And he spares Louie one more time.
But Louie now is after him: he has to avenge the deaths of his mafia brothers. Ghost Dog leaves his briefcase with all his money and all his bullets to his friend. The child returns the novel and Ghost Dog gives her the samurai book. Louie arrives on the limo with Louise. The bells announce the final shootout in the street. Ghost Dog lets Louie kill him and finally smiles. A pigeon flies to Ghost Dog. Louise finds her novel. The child grabs a gun and shoots at Louie, but the gun is not loaded. The child starts reading the samurai book.
But parody coexists with a spiritual message about life, with Jarmusch's "rap": the killer is a mythical samurai who can bridge nature (his pigeons) and technology (his weapons), ordinary humans (the ice cream vendor, the child) and special humans (the gangsters). The meaning of life is about rituals, rituals that help the individual recognize himself as part of a tribe. The killer is happy to be killed according to the rituals of his tribe (the samurai) and is happy that the killer kills him to fullfil the rituals of his tribe (the mafia).
There is also a subtle element of fiction: the film begins and ends with a Japanese novel read by Louise, and it does look like a Japanese novel, as if this could be but a girl's dream while she was reading the novel.
The film is only a little too long. The ending is a little too parodistic and self-referential.
Coffee and Cigarettes (2004) is a collection of eleven short films.
Broken Flowers (2005)
The Limits of Control (2009) is (in)famous for its elliptical dialogue and slow pace, but redeemed by a densely surreal atmosphere.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) is a vampire film, but there is no horror throughout the story. It is mostly a surrealistic comedy with psychedelic overtones.
Paterson (2016) is a poem to mediocrity and monotony, and a very hermetic parable of pointless living, of non-being. The bus is as much the protagonist as the main character: the urban landscape is viewed as a reflection in the windshield of the bus and the bus is viewed as a reflection in a shop's window. It is a simple, minimalist meditation, but it hides underneath a profound metaphysical truth, almost an essay on the human condition. On the surface the story sounds like an old-fashioned marital idyll, except that we can sense the tension that will arise as his truly gifted wife finds her calling and as Paterson the man slowly sinks into the post-industrial decay of Paterson the town. His stoic acceptance of the destruction of his poems by a dog, who was supposed to be his best friend, can be an allegory for the destruction of his middle-class life by the new technologies that are supposed to improve his life but that he unconsciously refuses to accept. We feel that Paterson is an extremely lonely man, but also that he doesn't know it yet. (I don't know whether it's intentional or not, but the poems used in this movie sound to me positively inept).