Jim Jarmusch


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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)
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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). (Translation of my original Italian text by/ Tradotto da Betty)

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)

(Translation of my original Italian text by/ Tradotto da Betty)

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.

Two Japanese passengers travel on a train to Memphis, Tennessee. The girl is an Elvis fan, convinced that Elvis was a reincarnation of Buddha, the Statue of Liberty and Madonna. They argue over who truly invented rock and roll. They wander around the dilapidated urban landscape of Memphis. They take the cheapest hotel room. He takes pictures of the room while she works on her Elvis scrapbook. They make love. The following morning they pack and, while they are leaving, they hear a gunshot.
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 young punkish chain-smoking gum-chewing taxi driver (Winona Rider) delivers two hippies to the airport and then meets a classy middle-aged lady who just got off her private plane and needs a ride to Beverly Hills. It turns out the lady is a casting agent and, struck by the cab driver's attitude, is ready to offer the young girl a part, except that the young girl wants to become a mechanic, not a movie star.
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.

(Translated by DeepL from my of my original Italian text)

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.
Blake is injured and is rescued by an Indian, Nobody, who was raised by whites and speaks urban English. Shunned by the tribe, which considers him a renegade, Nobody has remained true to the traditions of his people. When he was in Washington, he studied the poetry of William Blake, and is now convinced that the young man is the poet's reincarnation. Consequently, he takes him under his protection. The two begin a long journey among the wilderness, always tailed by the three shady psychotics. Along the way, Blake and Nobody encounter signs of death and destruction, which plague the poor young man. Blake seems the only sane one in a world of madmen. Senseless men roam a senseless landscape. Blake soon learns that to survive he must adapt to their lives and kills two sheriffs.
Cole, the most wicked and cruel of killers, kills the young black man who disrespects him, and then kills the other partner, too, guilty of chatting too much. Cole roasts him and eats him. Blake momentarily loses Nobody and must proceed alone, but then finds him again. Blake and Nobody get back on the road together again, and they meet a preacher who also runs a small store. The preacher recognizes Blake as the man on whom there is a bounty and tries to kill him, but Blake is faster and more accurate than he is. Another man manages to shoot him in the back, however, and mortally wounds him. Nobody realizes that this is the end, and takes Blake by boat to his village, another surreal place that resembles a fort and is reached via a path of ruin and destruction. The Indians put him in a "coffin boat" harnessed to a funeral and let him drift away. Just then, Cole arrives and kills Nobody and is killed by him. Blake sees the scene but cannot intervene: his boat is already floating in the open sea.

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)

Ghost Dog is a "big black guy" who gets inspiration from a book on samurai philosophy and trains pigeons on the roof of his building. He always carries with him a briefcase that contains high-tech gadgets. He walks out of his apartment, steals a car using one of his electronic devices, drives to a house where an old man is watching cartoons while a young woman, Louise, reads a novel, shoots the man, borrows the novel from the woman (it's a Japanese novel) and walks out. Ghost Dog is a killer, a cold and impeccable one. The man who ordered the contract is a small-time mafia boss, Sonny, who wanted to avenge the fact that the young woman is the daughter of Vargos, the super-boss. The contact between the killer and the mafia is Louie, a nice guy who reluctantly plays tough guy and who communicates with Ghost Dog via the pigeons. They are surrounded by other gangsters who are all old and inept like them.
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.
The cartoons are symbols of self-parody: this film's story is stereotyped the same way that cartoons are. Parody spreads to the genres that Jarmusch is copying: the gangsters are old, poor, can't pay rent.
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.

The film introduces the two protagonists, who live in different continents. Adam is a reclusive musician, whose music is quite popular. He interacts with the outside world via his trusted agent Ian, the only one who knows Adam's whereabouts and Adam's identity. Ian is also charged with finding vintage guitars and odd electronics for Adam's music hobbies. Ian is puzzled that Adam never allows him to use the bathroom. Eve, on the other hand, lives in Morocco, just like their good friend Kit, whose real name is Christopher Marlowe, the British writer who died in 1593. Christopher provides Eve with good blood. Adam and Eve now live in an age in which blood could be contaminated (a reference to the AIDS epidemics?) Adam, instead, dresses like a doctor, walks into a hospital and buys blood from a doctor. Kit knows that Eve is in love with Adam and doesn't understand why the two live apart (we are never told). He jokes that Adam is a suicidal romantic (apparently the bad influence of the poet Byron). One day Adam asks Ian to get him a wooden bullet (only wood can kill a vampire). Adam's studio is a collection of vintage electronics. When Eve calls him on the smartphone, Adam watches her on an old TV set. Eve decides to fly to the USA. They are happy to be reunited. Eve can guess the age of an object simply by touching it and confirms that one of Adam's new guitars is a 1905 rarity. She notices that Adam grows poisonous mushrooms in the garden and then finds his gun with the wooden bullet. When they argue about life and death, she reminds him that this is their third wedding. Both dream of Ava, Eve's dumb exuberant sister, who in fact shows up hours later in Adam's living room. Adam is still pissed about something she did the last time they met, 87 years earlier. Ava is in fact a troublemaker and doesn't waste time to wreak havoc. She insists on going to a club to listen to music and they take Ian as their guide. Ava flirts with Ian, invites him over and then... drinks him. Furious that she has killed his trusted agent, and that she damaged his 1905 guitar, Adam kicks Ava out and then disposes of the corpse with Eve. They decide to fly to Morocco, but when they arrive Kit is nowhere to be found and Eve has no other source of blood. They eventually head to Kit's house where they find him dying: he drank contaminated blood. He advises them to avoid the blood of local hospitals. Desperate, the two roam the streets of the Moroccan town. He is lured into a club by an angelic female singer. Later, they see her kissing a handsome young man. Adam and Even are touched by the scene. They walk towards the lovers and... they drink them. The last image is their mouths open as they strike the two young people.

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).

The film takes place in a modest blue-collar multi-racial town, Paterson. Before starting his shift, a bus driver also named Paterson writes a note about the matches that he and his wife keep at hand. It sounds like the thoughts of a retarded man but his wife thinks that it is high poetry. His lunch box contains a picture of Dante and one of his wife. At night he walks the dog around the neighborhood and stops by a bar where he knows everybody. While driving, he listens amused at the conversations of his passengers. His wife is worried that his poems are written in sole copy in his secret notebook and she wants him to make photocopies. She, on the other hand, dreams of becoming a country singer and decides to buy an expensive guitar. He calmly follows his routine day after day, with very little variation. For example, one night he finds a young black man practicing his rap lyrics in the laundramat. One day he overhears two passengers talking about anarchism. Whenever he can, he keeps writing his inept poems. His wife, instead, spends the day decorating the house in a truly artistic way and makes her own artistic clothes. Paterson has a funny Indian colleague who always complains about an endless streak of bad luck. One day he spots a teenage girl who is writing poetry in her secret notebook and she shares one with him, a poem about waterfalls that look like a woman's hair. His wife finds out that Petrarca wrote poems to a woman named Laura, just like her. He tells his wife about the little girl's poem that impressed him. At the bar the barman talks about comedian Lou Costello, the most famous person from Paterson, and he sees yet another scene by the two former lovers who keep arguing (and have known each other since childhood). His wife is excited about selling her cupcakes at the farmer's market and about getting the new guitar. Meanwhile, he doesn't even have a cell phone. When his bus breaks down, he has to borrow the phone of a child to call for assistance. At the bar the rejected boyfriend is getting desperate and even pulls out a gun. Paterson is quick to jump and disarm him but the gun was just a toy. The weekend comes and Paterson can rest, but it's the big day for his wife: she is going to sell her cupcakes at the farmer's market. It is a big success: she makes a lot of money. They go out to celebrate and when they get back home they find that the dog has chewed up Paterson's notebook. He waited too long to make photocopies of his poems and now they are all lost. He reacts calmly. His wife seems more distraught than him. He walks to the local waterfall and meets a Japanese tourist who asks him about William Carlos Williams, who lived in Paterson and wrote the poem "Paterson". The Japanese tourist writes poetry in his notebooks. Before leaving, the mysterious stranger gifts Paterson a blank notebook. And Paterson starts writing poetry again.
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