Brief Encounters: Director Jim Jarmusch on the Poetic Downtime of Coffee and Cigarettes

Filmmaker Magazine | 8/24/2019 | Scott Macaulay
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by Scott Macaulay

“Why do people go to the cinema?” Andrei Tarkovsky writes in a book of essays, Sculpting in Time. “I think that what a person normally goes to the cinema for,” he goes on, “is time: time lost or spent or not yet had.”

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Time lost, spent or not yet had is the stuff of Jim Jarmusch’s new feature, his ninth, Coffee and Cigarettes. Consisting of 11 short vignettes, all featuring two or three people meeting over, yes, coffee and cigarettes, the assembled project culminates a work begun 18 years ago when Jarmusch gathered comedians Roberto Benigi and Steven Wright and spun a funny B&W riff on chance encounters and overcaffeination. Over the years Jarmusch filmed more of these episodes, all comprised of the same sort of odd, out-of-time moments that are rarely captured onscreen. Tom Waits is late meeting Iggy Pop at a diner because he had to perform roadside medical service. (“Music and medicine are like two planets revolving around the same sun,” he explains.) Bill Murray plays Bill Murray moonlighting as a waiter serving the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA; Cate Blanchett, in a stunning acting and technical tour de force, plays herself awkwardly reconnecting with her bitter cousin (also played by Cate Blachett) while on a publicity tour; Jack and Meg White discuss Nikola Tesla; a good-hearted Alfred Molina discovers that an arrogant Steve Coogan is a long-lost relative; and in a sublimely melancholic closer, underground film and theater icons Taylor Mead and Bill Rice toast “New York in the ’70s” during downtime on their no-frills production.

But such simple plot summaries can do little justice to the real pleasures of Coffee and Cigarettes. As Tarkovsky writes in the same essay, a director’s true character is ultimately expressed by the way in which he...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Filmmaker Magazine
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