STRANGE PARADISE: Coffee and Cigarettes

By: Addison Wylie

TIFF Cinematheque opens up a wonderful world of  weird with Strange Paradise: The Cinema of Jim Jarmusch.

The retrospective – which began on July 24 and runs until August 16 – screens Jarmusch’s unique filmography in pristine condition at the TIFF BELL Lightbox.  The scheduling of the program jumps around, so faithful watchers are never following the career in chronological order.  Something tells me this quirk is much like Jarmusch’s unpredictable sensibilities.

Wylie Writes’ coverage begins with a revisiting of the filmmaker’s 2003 unique anthology.


Coffee and Cigarettes is a film filled with eclectic personalities and kooky discussions among celebrities playing exaggerated versions of themselves or different characters altogether.

For instance, laid back comedian Steven Wright and anxious Academy Award winner Roberto Benigni play heightened variations of themselves as they meet outside a coffee shop and subconsciously learn that while they have erratically different personas, they’re basically the same.  It’s loaded with Wright’s classic disconnected presence and Benigni’s childlike excitement.

Next, we have Steve Buscemi playing a nosy waiter.  He spills coffee and bugs two twins (Joie Lee and Cinqué Lee) about his conspiracy theory about Elvis and his “evil twin”.  Later, the audience gets a slow sketch involving a nervous busboy and his mysterious customer, Renée.  And then, movie goers are exposed to a bizarre run-in between an incognito Bill Murray and Wu-Tang Clan musicians Gza and Rza.

Coffee and Cigarettes may appear as a by-the-numbers anthology riding on star power, but it’s not.  It’s a movie that isn’t afraid to take its time to get a “feel” for a scene and let organic nuances unfold – a common theme in Jarmusch’s filmmaking.

The loose structure of Coffee and Cigarettes is appropriate and gives the performers the proper leeway they need, but the aloof pace can sometimes hamper the filmmaking.  Jarmusch’s compiled feature run 95 minutes, but with some trimming applied to the many protracted silences, he could’ve easily submitted his film in at a swift 83 minutes.

Some topics intentionally bleed over into other stories (Nikola Tesla, dreaming rapidly), which makes the shorts stranger, but also a little redundant.  The shorts that take top honours are those that not only tie in personality similarities, but also Hollywood hubbub and facades.  A very funny film entitled Cousins? starring Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan does so splendidly.  Also, Jarmusch caps his film off beautifully with the charming short Champagne.

Like the titled addictions, Coffee and Cigarettes is not for everyone, but is sure to have curious viewers hooked.  It’s a mixed bag that is thankfully filled with more ambitious hits than ponderous flops.

Coffee and Cigarettes screens at the TIFF BELL Lightbox on Friday, August 1 at 6:30 p.m.

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