Jim Jarmusch made five movies in the first nine years of his career:
- Permanent Vacation (1980);
- Stranger Than Paradise (1984);
- Down By Law (1986);
- Mystery Train (1989);
- Night on Earth (1991).
Then, he slowed down to a film every four years:
- Dead Man (1995);
- Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samuray (1999);
- Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), to which this post is dedicated.
To tell the truth, he didn’t shoot the whole movie in 2003, since the film is nothing more than a series of short films, three of which were shot between 1986 and 1993. And, let me tell you, they are also the three funniest ones. One is with Roberto Benigni (shot in the same year of Down By Law) and Steven Wright (a great stand up comedian who only uses a single tone of voice for his monologues and who was the radio speaker in Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, 1992). The second one is about Elvis (it was shot in the year of Mystery Train) and Steve Buscemi is in it. And the third is perhaps the most cult of all since it features Tom Waits (who has appeared in a lot of Jarmusch films) and Iggy Pop (which in 2019 was in The Dead Don’t Die).
But what exactly is Coffee and Cigarettes? It’s a series of short films in which two or three people talk sitting at a table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes (or talking about these two things). In 2003, Jarmusch was THE independent director and I think he found it easy to assemble a most interesting cast: in addition to those already mentioned before, there Alfred Molina, the White Stripes, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray , two of the Wu Tang Clan… In short, Jarmusch once again mixed the worlds of cinema and music and worked with people he knew and with whom either he had already worked or he would return to work with in the future.
The movie is shot in black and white, that the director likes so much (he already used that in Permanent Vacation, Down By Law and Dead Man). Here this choice perfectly matches the themes of the film: cigarettes are usually white and coffee is black! Furthermore, in most segments there are two people talking and respectfully disagreeing with each other, more or less… I add more or less because even if Coffee and Cigarettes is in some way the same usual Jarmusch we know from his previous works, in my opinion this is a step backwards compared to his previous works where he had demonstrated his ability to write good and profoundand scripts, in addition to having shown great skills behind the camera. Here he uses the camera well but there’s only so much you can do when shooting two people at a table!
But, above all, the script didn’t particularly impress me. Of course, some dialogues are brilliant and Jarmusch’s irony and sense humor come across well, but in the end it is hard to find a real connection between the eleven vignettes (on the contrary, those of Night on Earth felt much more cohesive). Three of them at least make sense once you know their context (Benigni who practically doesn’t speak English as in Down By Law, Buscemi talks about Elvis while shooting Mystery Train; and Tom Waits and Iggy Pop together are enough, you don’t need much else!), but most of the others seem almost an excuse to complete a feature film. Jarmusch’s themes are all there as always, but here they are not well developed nor supported by brilliant ideas.
Is Coffee and Cigarettes worth watching, then? In my opinion, yes, it is. and I would say the same for anything shot by Jim Jarmusch, but I don’t consider it among his better works. Sometimes you can feel the best Jarmusch there, but overall the film is a little disjointed. Ciao!