Jim Jarmusch is not a household name like Tarantino or Oliver Stone. Perhaps it’s because like Sofia Coppola, he is a minimalist. He doesn’t overwhelm the audience with explosive storylines and subplots; rather, he allows the script to calmly unfold piece by piece. Like in Coppola’s films, conflicts tend to be personal. Broken Flowers, for instance, features Bill Murray as a man on a quest across America to find out who birthed his son. Through the subtle twists of the face and silent, incredulous pauses that Murray does so well, we learn that this is a man who, in finding his progeny, is finding himself.
2003’s Coffee and Cigarettes is similarly introspective. Jarmusch gives us a series of six to nine-minute pieces, each somehow implicating the eponymous stage props. Through absorbing dialogue and improvisational use of setting, the inner desires of each character are exposed for us to appreciate. Filmed in black and white to emphasize character contrast, it is a must-see for any Jarmusch fan.
And if you haven’t heard his name till now? Well, the CG takes you through each of the eleven vignettes to help you decide which are worth sipping – and which are worth pouring down the drain.
Strange to Meet You:
Jarmusch’s easiest inclusion, this segment is simply the original 1980s’ short film in which Roberto Benigni offers Steven Wright (or the other way around) to temporarily assume his identity. Mostly worth watching to see Benigni in his pre-Life is Beautiful days. Some interesting back-and-forth between the two strangers, but otherwise quite dull.
Steve Buscemi plays a “back-slapping” waiter who seems oblivious to Joie and Cinqué Lee’s disgust with his lousy service and social ineptitude. Some theories regarding Elvis’s theft of the classics that made him a success are discussed, but most interesting is Jarmusch’s exploration of twinhood – for instance the annoyance that naturally comes with wearing the same shoes as your fraternal sister.
Somewhere in California:
Winner of the Short Film Palme d’Or in 1993, this short positions Iggy Pop and Tom Waits as two musicians who are subconsciously vying for musical dominance over the other. The jukebox on the right of the screen serves as a useful element here, and the humour of awkward male conversation is put on display.
Those Things’ll Kill Ya:
A man tries to convince his friend of the health risks of smoking. The tough-guy New York-accent bravado between the two of them is entertaining, and their banter bespeaks an old friendship that endures their nitpicking. Other than that, not much interesting transpires.
The most noteworthy part of this segment is certainly the dazzling Renée French, a woman whose beauty earns her the unsolicited attention of a male waiter. As she sips her coffee, flicks her ashes and coyly flips the pages of her gun magazine, he finds ways to initiate conversation – to her utter annoyance. The idea is cute but it is executed poorly, with little happening to engage the viewer besides Renée’s pouty lips. Just wait a bit longer and you can find a less miserable beauty in Cate Blanchett.
A man with what seems to be a gambling problem absent-mindedly tosses dice on the table as he waits for a friend. When his friend arrives and detects some issues festering beneath the surface, the man insists that there are “no problems.” The friend’s concern is palpable and we watch uncomfortably as both of them try to find the words to express their innermost feelings. But it is a good kind of uncomfortable, as it effectively addresses the pitfalls of masculine pride.
Set in the lounge of a swank hotel, Cate Blanchett is cast as both herself and her grungy, nobody cousin. The latter feels inadequate compared to her successful relative, and handles it by emphasizing her relative lowliness. Blanchett plays both parts superbly, highlighting the stark contrast between celebrity culture and the public that craves it. And then, after Cate is called away, her cousin gets the zinger. Watch it.
Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil:
In a postmodern turn, Iggy Pop’s “The Stooges” is playing in the background as Jack White instructs sister Meg on Nikola Tesla’s ingenuity. Takes a similar tone to “Twins” in its didactic approach about a notable historical figure. Effective at emphasizing the complex nature of siblinghood, but there’s little beyond this.
Alfred Molina sits patiently waiting for fellow actor Steve Coogan to show up for an impromptu meeting. When Steve finally arrives, Alfred is attentive and reverential in contrast to Steve’s pompous disdain. It’s the subtleties that tell us all we need to know – interrupting him, offering Alfred’s file to sign an autograph for a fan, confusing his name. And then it all comes full circle. The film’s longest segment, it is also the most rewarding.
Wu Tang Clan’s GZA and RZA dish out on alternative medical practices and insist to waiter Bill Murray that caffeine causes delirium. Harebrained Murray doesn’t seem to mind as he chugs coffee from the pot and lights his cigarettes with a BBQ lighter. Worth watching just for the humour of seeing Wu Tang take the holistic highground and Bill Murray listen trustingly.
The title gets its name when a senile old man calls the coffee he’s drinking “champagne.” His friend is disconcerted at his friend’s decline, yet supportive given the past they share. In fact, the past is all they have and they revisit their glory days with sentimental reminiscence. A nice touch, but certainly not the strongest of the set.
Overall Score: 3/5