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USA 2004
Directed by
Jim Jarmusch
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Coffee And Cigarettes

Synopsis: 11 vignettes involving a variety of characters sitting around, drinking coffee, smoking and discussing the craziest and most diverse subjects ranging from Tesla coils through to Elvis conspiracy theories.

This film started for Jarmusch about 17 years ago when he made just one episode for Saturday Night Live. Since then he has taken his time to make the other ten and present them as a whole. It is entirely shot in black and white, and most of the episodes have several common motifs: an overhead shot looking at a check tablecloth and the detritus of the occasion; the clinking together of coffee cups as a friendship ritual, and of course some sort of subtle (or not) conflict between the characters.

In previous films like Night On Earth and Mystery Train Jarmusch also used short stories as part of a whole. "Life has no plot, why must films or fiction?" So has said Jarmusch, and this film carries the philosophy to the extreme. Films like this are not everyone's cup of tea (or coffee) and Jarmusch is, for many, an acquired taste. It is at taste which gradually, over many films, I have acquired and although often I have never come to fathom his films cerebrally, they speak to me at some subliminal level. This one especially taps into some truth of what makes human beings and their relationships so funny, so life-affirming and at times so damned uncomfortable. Certainly anyone who's ever done the coffee and fags bit will relate instantly to the power this ritual has to transcend the daily tedium and to forge instant feelings of friendship, whether real or illusory.

Using some of his favourite actors from previous films, (including Roberto Benigni, Tom Waits, Isaach de Bankolé, Cinque Lee, Steve Buscemi) and some wonderfully unexpected high profile actors (Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan), plus some total unknowns, Jarmusch takes these 11 situations with their closely-observed nuances and shows us that the most ordinary of situations can sometimes be mesmerisingly fascinating. So plausible are these people, we are left with the feeling that they are still bumbling their way through life's random roads long after we've left the cinema.

Some examples of the 'non-story': In the segment Somewhere in California Tom Waits meets up with Iggy Pop in a grungy café and they discuss the fact that since they have both quit smoking it is ok to have just one from the abandoned packet on their table. They then fall into competing observations to the other that he doesn't have a song on the café jukebox. Their conversation becomes progressively more uncomfortable and they make assorted excuses for having to leave. In Cate Blanchett's vignette, Cousins, she plays both herself and her bogan cousin, Shell, from Sydney. They, too, interact awkwardly with each other and Blanchett shows again her remarkable talent that truly has us believe she is at once the star actress and the envious cousin. Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan are the high spot, and even if you don't appreciate the other stories, it's worth it for this one alone.

The soundtrack also warrants close attention, and it is interesting that one of the stories features acting by Gza and Rza of the musical group Wu-Tang Clan, the latter who scored the soundtrack for Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai.




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