Worth A Look: 59.09%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap: 9.09%
5 reviews, 14 user ratings
|Coffee and Cigarettes
by Trevor Gensch
Often I feel its a sign of laziness in a film-maker that has the nerve to package together what are essentially a few short films and market them as a feature - but in the case of Jim Jarmusch's effort, its a ploy that works, and I wouldn't dream of viewing this any other way.Jim Jarmusch's film Coffee and Cigarettes is an eclectic collection of vignettes that range from inspired and brilliant to so so and dull.
"Can a movie give you withdrawal symptoms?"
It's a relatively simple concept - pull together a collection of short films all concerned with coffee and cigarettes, slap a title card in front of each, and hey presto, you have an instant film!
Of course it wasn't that simple, Jarmusch took 17 years to film all the parts that make up his little movie. For example, the Roberto Benigni/Steven Wright sequence that opens the film was shot in 1987, many years before he came to the world's attention in Life is Beautiful. And a surreal scene between Iggy Pop and Tom Waits was shot in 1992.
Many of the scenes feature performers that are as far removed from their traditional environments as you could possibly be - it's almost as if you are intruding on their personal space, getting a glimpse into their personal lives. In most scenes the actors are playing "themselves" - such as a coffee shop scene between members of the WuTan Clan and Bill Murray is just that - they aren't playing somebody else.
Spike Lee's two kids get a look in during a scene where a persistent coffee shop attendant (played with manic intensity by Steve Buscemi) get into a bizarre discussion over Elvis and his supposed death. Often I had to remind myself that this is all entirely fictional though, that what we are seeing are actors, not a documentary.
By the very nature of its format, Coffee and Cigarettes is a bit of a hit and miss affair - there is plenty here for everyone to enjoy, but not all of the disparate elements particularly work on their own, instead they add to the overall feel of the film. For every gem, such as a wonderful self-parodying turn by Cate Blanchett, returning to Australia for a whirlwind press junket and meeting up with her cousin (also played by Cate) there are bizarre scenes of arguing Italians (apparently filmed as a parody of a well-known American sport commercial). For every scene you hoped would never end (Alfred Molina coming on like a rookie telemarketer as he tries to show a bemused by Hollywood-contact-hungry Steve Coogan that they are indeed related) you also have to endure a woman who seems to be quite obsessed about maintaining the perfect texture, colour and consistency in her cup of java.
The scenes that are most effective are the ones that make you forget that the movie is about the titular subjects - a scene between the two members of the rock band White Stripes is brilliant in that while coffee heavily features, you are more caught up in what they are doing with a weird contraption that has been wheeled in than anything else going on. And another scene with two aging storeman on their 10 minute break is more interesting for what is going on "beyond" their awful takeaway coffee than anything in the cups themselves.
And the ultimate irony of this film is that the films finest scene features not one trace of coffee at all - I'll leave it to you to find out which one that is.
Coffee and Cigarettes, while being a satisfying film, starts to disappear up its own rear end towards the end as latter skits begin to reference events of other skits (earth as a giant conductor, caf-pops etc) but thankfully they are kept to a minimum to allow the seemingly improvisational nature of the scene to shine through.
Apparently shot on 35mm film (although the look and feel of its B&W finish make it look almost like it was shot on 16mm, it has a very grainy, earthy look to it that perhaps may be due to its big screen projection than the film-making process. It will be interesting to see if it can keep its intimate feel when its hits the video stores.Coffee and Cigarettes, while perhaps not being greater than the sum of its parts, has enough in it to excuse its occasional roughness and unevenness. If Jarmusch has shares in some coffee plantations, it certainly worked for me, as as soon as I left the cinema I search for the nearest cup of caffeine I could lay my lips on.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8883&reviewer=343
originally posted: 08/19/04 10:21:14
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.