directed by Jim Jarmusch
USA 2003

 

From 1986 to 2003 Jim Jarmusch has been shooting short films in a series named “Coffee and Cigarettes”. These partly improvised films show at least two characters playing variations of themselves, having coffee and cigarettes together and talking about… well, what’s currently on their minds.

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Strange to Meet You

This was the first segment of “Coffee and Cigarettes”, made in 1986 and starring Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright. It’s a witty little film, mostly driven by Benigni’s ravishingly wild humour, with Wright as the lethargic opposite. A quick, entertaining opener.

Twins

“Twins” is about Steve Buscemi telling Joie and Cinqué Lee a story about Elvis and his evil twin brother. It’s obvious that Buscemi steals the show here, since the Lee-twins are quite uninteresting, shallow characters. The opening and ending scenes with the Lees-only are dry and repetitive, while Buscemi adds some funny lines, but is nevertheless unable to prevent this episode from becoming tedious.

Somewhere in California

Tom Waits and Iggy Pop meet each other “Somewhere in California”, the segment that won the 1993 Palm d’Or in Cannes for best short film. This is one of the films in this series that seems less staged and more improvised, since there is uncomfortable distance and human quirkiness between Waits and Pop. What I liked most about this episode were the casual gestures and expressions (the hesitant handshake, the eyes rolling, Waits waiting for Pop to leave so that he can look at the jukebox in the end) and Jarmusch’s laconic humour (the fact that since they both stopped smoking, now they can have one).

Those Things’ll Kill Ya

Joe Rigano gives Vinny Vella a lesson why smoking is bad in this segment, which is among the comedies of “Coffee and Cigarettes”. There are some hilarious one-liners and neat acting by all three participants (the third is Vella’s son).

Renée

“Renée” is a quiet, static piece of observation. It stars Renée French (who, with all the thick make-up and the cigarette looks like an archetypical femme fatale from a 40s film noir) and E.J. Rodriguez as her sloppy waiter. The dialogue - if you can call it “dialogue” - is brief and of no interest for Jarmusch, who films Renée from above (with a look at her weapon-magazine) and in a series of close-ups. This is comfortable and relaxing to look at.

No Problem

I have a problem with “No Problem”. This meeting between Alex Descas and Isaach De Bankolé is the least satisfying segment next to “Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil”. This film mainly consists of Isaach asking Alex if he has a problem. To a certain extent, this would be a realistic conversation between two friends – one passive, the other one caring. But the piece is just too long and the dialogue soon becomes pointless.

Cousins

It must have been very hard for Cate Blanchett to achieve the feel of a natural one-on-one conversation by playing two characters, but she succeeded in every way. On one side, we have the actress Cate, the shining star, and on the other we have the jealous cousin Shelly, broke and pathetic. The dialogue of “Cousins” is smart and catchy and Blanchett perfectly embodies both personalities.

Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil

The title says it all. What we get here is terrible acting, uninteresting screen personas and minutes of boredom. Completely out of place.

Cousins?

This very entertaining, clever and brilliantly constructed episode is one of the highlights of the collection. Jarmusch packs a big story twist and some sarcastic wit on Hollywood into only a couple of minutes, while the true genius comes from Alfred Molina’s and Steve Coogan’s performances, whose behaviours and expressions radically change at one point.

Delirium

Perhaps the funniest of all episodes, “Delirium” is about GZA and RZA telling Bill Murray what to do against his smoker’s cough. It may not surprise you that it is Murray who creates the big laughs, with drinking coffee directly from the pot and masquerading his celebrity persona as a waiter. What I also liked here were the references to “Strange to Meet You”.

Champagne

Jarmusch couldn’t choose a better episode to end “Coffee and Cigarettes” than “Champagne”, because it captures the essence of the “sad and beautiful world”, present in all of the director’s films. What Roberto Benigni mistakenly said in “Down by Law” became Jarmusch’s trademark. The appreciation of the little things in life and the pleasant nostalgia. In “Champagne”, Bill Rice and Taylor Mead listen to Gustav Mahler’s “I Have Lost Track of the World” and pretend to drink champagne instead of the working man’s coffee. It’s a very sad and touching episode, though beautiful in every frame and spoken word. It leaves me with the same melancholic feeling I had after viewing “Dead Man”, “Stranger than Paradise” and recently “Broken Flowers” and that’s what makes me return so often to Jarmusch’s movies.

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“Coffee and Cigarettes” is certainly not a perfect work, but it has a very pleasant overall feel. I laughed loud at “Delirium” and “Those Things’ll Kill Ya”, I highly enjoyed the naturalism of “Cousins?” and “Somewhere in California” and I have lost track of the world in “Champagne”. After viewing this, I feel both rested and entertained in a calm way and the beauty of the DVD is that I can return to the episodes I liked best every time I want.
 

C.P. Czarnecki

Posters

Theatrical Release: 7 September 2003 (Toronto Film Festival)

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DVD Review: Arthaus - Region 2 - PAL

DVD Box Cover

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also available in

Region 1:

Distribution

Arthaus

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:32:21 (4% PAL speedup)
Video

1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 8.64 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles German
Features Release Information:
Studio: Arthaus

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1

Edition Details:
• Tabletops - Music Video by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
• Interview with Taylor Mead
• Bill Murray Outtake
• Theatrical Trailer

DVD Release Date: 8 March 2005
Keep Case

Chapters 12

 

 

Comments This German DVD from Arthaus is practically identical to the American MGM and British Tartan releases. What we get is superb black and white picture quality, very clear sound (although the 5.1 is useless, since this is a dialogue-driven film) and a few bare-bones extras. Certainly a must-have for Jarmusch fans.

 - C.P. Czarnecki

 

 






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