COFFEE AND CIGARETTES
Review by Michael Jacobson
Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinque Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy
Pop, Tom Waits, Joe Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella Jr., Renee French, E.J.
Rodriguez, Alex Descas, Isaach de Bankole, Cate Blanchett, Meg White, Jack
White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, GZA, RZA, Bill Murray, Bill Rice, Taylor
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: September 21, 2004
you should quit.”
ain’t no f—king quitter.”
drink to that.”
late Gene Siskel used to have a litmus test for movies:
would a film about the actors getting together and having lunch be more
interesting than the picture they actually made?
the case of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, those two flicks are
one and the same. It’s like a
short story collection of 11 vignettes where the actors all more or less play
themselves and share small talk over smokes and joe. It was a total of 17 years in the making, with some pieces
released as short films over the years. Brought
all together, it feels like a small indie movie of epic proportions.
The length of time it took Jarmusch to make the movie gave it an amusing
modern irony; as Roger Ebert has pointed out, people can no longer smoke in
segment is like eavesdropping on a quiet conversation, and like life, sometimes
people talk about everything over coffee, sometimes they talk about nothing.
Certain bits are more intriguing than others, but it all seems like a
wonderfully spirited cross section of life, captured in beautiful black and
white, and laid bare for all to drink in and mull over.
segments are strangely amusing, like the opening where an eager-to-please
Roberto Benigni agrees to go to the dentist in place of
Steven Wright. Some are inexplicably funny, like the segment with Jack and
Meg White of the White Stripes discussing Jack’s new Tesla coil…it has no
jokes, but the way the two play the scene had me howling with their timing and
reactions. Some say a lot, like the
one between Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, others seem to say nothing at all,
like the one where the achingly lovely Renee French tries to ward off an awkward
and obviously smitten E.J. Rodriguez.
want to say more about the Molina/Coogan segment, though, because it was my
favorite. The two actors meet
because Alfred has discovered they are distant cousins. He is enthralled by the idea of a new member of his family;
the cool Coogan a little less so. The
scene is simple in scope yet complex in emotion; Molina’s performance is
quietly heartbreaking. And the way
the scene concludes was a brilliant but honest slice of human nature laid bare.
also loved the part where Cate Blanchett, the acclaimed actress, sits down with
her cousin (also played by Cate Blanchett), for a small conversation where the
unspoken words really seem to tell the story.
It’s a tour-de-force dual performance by Ms. Blanchett that’s both
funny and touching.
Pop and Tom Waits share a moment where the two agree it’s okay to have a
cigarette since both had successfully quit smoking. Steve Buscemi plays a waiter to Joie and Cinque Lee, who sit
disgruntled in Memphis while listening to his wild theory about how Elvis was
replaced by his supposed dead twin, Jessie Garon. And GZA and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan have an amusing
conversation with a semi-incognito Bill Murray about alternative medicine.
whole film plays out like experiments in pairing…one might ask what would
happen if Iggy Pop and Tom Waits sat down for coffee, or what the Wu-Tang and
Bill Murray might say to one another, or what the White Stripes talk about in
their spare time. The genius of Jim
Jarmusch is that the scenery is unimportant, and sometimes the dialogue seems
banal, but through it all, he examines human nature with a microscope.
Sometimes it’s the things that can’t be seen with the naked eye that
make up the composition of a person.
segment is too long, so if you find one not to your interest, you are only
minutes away from a different one. Like
any collection of short stories, some are better than others, but the best ones
usually make the whole book worth reading.
is an artist who is consummately comfortable with black and white, and his DP
Frederick Elmes, while not having to move his cameras around too much, always
seem to capture everyday images in beautifully contrasting ways.
There is only minimal grain here and there…normal for higher contrast
stocks…and the white seem pure and clean and the blacks deep and strong.
film offers a 5.1 soundtrack, but it doesn’t require it; the movie is really
only dialogue with a couple of light traces of music in the background.
Everything sounds clean and clear and well balanced, but by nature, this
won’t test your sound system out much.
some cast commentary be great for a film like this? Sadly, there is none, but the disc does include a funny
outtake from Bill Murray, an original trailer, an interview with actor Taylor
Mead, and a strange bit called “Tabletops”, which is nothing but…well,
tabletop shots set to music.