Coffee and Cigarettes
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Jim Jarmusch
with Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinque Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joe Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella Jr, Renee French, EJ Rodriguez, Alex Descas, Isaach De Bankole, Cate Blanchett, Jack White, Meg White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, GZA, RZA, Bill Murray, Bill Rice, Taylor Mead
release US 14.May.04, UK 22.Oct.04
03/US 1h36

Checkerboard tablecloths in smoky cafes: GZA, RZA and Murray (above); Molina and Coogan (below)

24th Shadows Awards
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Rather than a feature film, these are 11 shorts made over 17 years. They bear Jarmisch's hallmarks as a filmmaker--hilariously loose conversation, deadpan editing and cinematography and the sense that almost anything could happen next ... but probably won't.

The first was shot for Saturday Night Live in 1986: Benigni and Wright have a surreal and jittery meeting in a smoky cafe, talking about coffee and cigarettes (as happens in every short, naturally). From here Jarmusch picks up visual links and a few thematic repetitions. Lee and Lee are twins in a Memphis cafe seriously annoyed with waiter Buscemi. Pop and Waits have an amusingly askew chat about music in a Northern California diner. Rigano and Vella Sr are mobsters talking GoodFellas style about the hazards of smoking. French tries to drink her coffee in peace despite helpful waiter Rodriguez. And Descas and Bankole play reunited friends waiting for the other to say something important.

Up to this point it's all fairly silly, with relaxed improv-like performances from famous figures all using their own names (it's actually scripted). Then we see Blanchett sitting in a hotel lobby and the film shifts dramatically; her scene as a famous actress talking to a low-life cousin (also played by Blanchett) is riveting, offering us a glimpse into Blanchett herself (note the relaxed Aussie accent) and real insight into the life of a celebrity and those around her. It's a stunning piece that shines above everything before or after.

This is followed by the Whites nattering about the inventor Tesla, who could have changed the world but wasn't allowed to. And then there's another bright spot when Molina and Coogan have a tense and hysterically funny cup of tea (they're British!) while trying to talk about work and contacts and the odd connection between them. Next, Wu-Tang members RZA and GZA chat with goofy waiter Murray, bringing in lots of themes from previous shorts. And finally the aging Rice and Mead and try to find some joie de vivre by pretending the nasty coffee they're drinking is really champagne.

There's a lovely tone running throughout--the dryness is pure Jarmusch, as is the way serious themes are nestled everywhere like an Easter egg hunt. And there are some amazing standout performances (Blanchett, Molina and Coogan). Otherwise, it's just a bit of diverting fluff.

cert 15 themes, language 9.Sep.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall