"Cream, Sugar, Conversation?"
Cryptic indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has collected some short films almost two decades old and added a few new ones to form COFFEE AND CIGARETTES. Each of the short films takes place in a diner or restaurant where coffee (or tea) is served, and each is as simple as watching two or three people talk.
The diversely talented cast is the movie’s greatest asset. Cate Blanchett simultaneously plays two roles and gives some subtle, greatly restrained depth to this mostly comedic movie. Bill Murray is his funny, jarringly weird self. His segment is perhaps the most absurd. The funniest moments come in the conversation between underground musical icons Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. Waits, who has been used to great effect in a few Robert Altman movies, is hilarious with his icy, deadpan delivery. He is a unique presence and great fun to watch on-screen.
Most of the conversations focus on the mundane, and many of them literally focus on coffee or cigarettes. Descended from WAITING FOR GODOT, the conversations are elliptical and perhaps try the audience’s patience, although these lines appear to have minor symbolic value. There is no mention of politics, religion or philosophy. Emotions can still be mined from the scenes, as happens in Cate Blanchett’s vignette, but mostly it is a study of awkwardness and characterization.
To say that Jarmusch’s dialogue is obscure might offend the writer/director. At times, he seems to want to transcend obscurity and make his films unintelligible. One of the vignettes, “No Problem,” begins with the characters speaking French, and the dialogue is not subtitled. This is a good metaphor for some of Jarmusch’s work. Some of the scenes are that cryptic, such as the opener with Roberto Benigni (LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL) and Steven Wright. Others, like the closer “Champagne,” are obscure but flirt with a kind of poignance and humor that would be hard to hit if attempted in another style.
Although billed as a drama, COFFEE AND CIGARETTES is much funnier than most of the contrived, offensive and frankly stupid comedies released by major studios. Its humor is quiet and character-driven, however, and the all dialogue/no plot movie will not appeal to some audiences. Definitely more approachable than Jarmusch’s other movies, COFFEE AND CIGARETTES bears the signs of a movie that might reward repeated viewings. Then again, it may just be a nice comic diversion.
(H, LLL, D) Very lightly humanist worldview that ignores divinity; 33 obscenities, a large portion of which are the “f” word, and five profanities; no violence; cigarette smoking in every scene; and nothing else objectionable.
COFFEE AND CIGARETTES is a collection of short films by cryptic independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. Each one is simply a conversation, many of them literally about coffee or cigarettes. As one might expect, there is a lot of smoking in the movie and a fair amount of foul language, but those are the only controversial factors – there is not even political, religious or philosophical debate. The characters spend their time discussing life’s eccentricities, and their absurdist dialogue is often very funny.
More than the script, the diversely talented cast is the movie’s greatest asset. Cate Blanchett simultaneously plays two roles and adds some subtle, restrained depth. Bill Murray is his funny, weird self, and his segment is perhaps the most inexplicable. The funniest moments come in the conversation between underground musical icons Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. Waits especially is hilarious with his icy, deadpan delivery. He is a unique presence and great fun to watch. Although billed as a drama, COFFEE AND CIGARETTES is much funnier than most of the contrived and offensive comedies released by major studios. Its humor is quiet and character-driven, however, and the all-dialogue/no-plot movie will not appeal to some audiences.