Coffee and Cigarettes

Director: Jim Jarmusch

U.S.A.| 2003. Black and white. 96 mins.

It’s not quite a lifetime’s work, but Jim Jarmusch started shooting this relaxed assemblage of shorts way back in 1986. Only those who’d caught Down By Law had much of an idea then who Roberto Benigni was, but the hyper Italian proved quite a foil for deadpan comic Steven Wright, as the two bonded over caffeine, nicotine and dentist jokes. This disarming encounter set the pattern, with Jarmusch adding as he went along, bringing the entire selection up to feature length with a recent ?urry of activity: here’s RZA, the rap artist who did the soundtrack for Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, spotting an undercover Bill Murray in a downhome LA cafe; there’s Cate Blanchett, movie star on the promo circuit, sparing a few ?xed-smile moments for her ?aky slacker cousin (Blanchett again). Best of all is a tête-à-tête over, well tea actually, as Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, Englishmen in Tinseltown, cagily size each other up in an unspoken game of who’s-the-coolest?, the balance of power shifting back and forth thanks to Jarmusch’s deftly insightful dialogue and two actors who absolutely nail it.
Elsewhere, watch Tom Waits and Iggy Pop batting mock deference across a diner booth, and the fascination is seeing them play up their roles while seemingly giving something of their real selves away. Priceless moments. Like all such portmanteau offerings (its maker’s own Night on Earth included), there are ups and downs, but the whole deal, beautifully shot in black-and-white by Fred Elmes (Eraserhead) and others, bears the authentic Jarmusch imprimatur of unhurried pacing, telling observation, and slow-burning humour. Warning to the smokers in the audience: you’ll be gasping by the end.—. ()
The IFI’s November-December programme will feature a Jim Jarmusch retrospective.

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