Man, I never thought I’d see a film that would so typify independent cinema that I’d finally get where all the references seem to originate from. I always assumed that they were mostly spread out over a bunch of films that would come to sculpt and shape the genre of independent film, but no; either Jim Jarmusch decided to coagulate it all into a single film, or all the references and witty retorts towards indie flicks are all about his debut film, Stranger Than Paradise. This is a film a French film student would aspire to make, and yet it is inexplicably in English. I’m sure there’s a word or phrase to describe such a cross-cultural phenomenon, but I’m not aware of it. Let’s call it Jarmuschian.
What can scarcely be called the film’s plot revolves around Hungarian-American Willie, who ends up housing his homeland cousin Eva for 10 days in New York City. Eventually, she makes her way to Cleveland, and a year later, Willie and his friend Eddie follow. When they get there, they decide to head to Florida, and the now-trio makes their way south, where some actual stuff happens, and then the film basically ends. I don’t know, and I don’t care, and frankly, neither does the film; the whole point is the unrelenting ennui and sunken depression of nothingness that the trio finds is their lives, and that there seems to be no escape from it for them. Once again, this makes for a somewhat successful film at what it tries to do, but not a very entertaining one to watch. What was especially notable was how Jarmusch aspires to achieve his goals, or rather how he tries to put together the film’s technical elements in order to do what he wants to do. I don’t really know what Jarmusch was attempting to achieve here, but if it was anything akin to the most amateur debut feature a filmmaker could make, then I think he succeeded, and what’s funnier is that this is actually his second feature film. Everything about this film just shouted “amateur hour” to me, from the wooden acting and delivery of the script’s all-too-humbly everyman’s speech and actions, to the one-note cinematography, to the plot progression that leaves the film completely empty-handed at the end and forcing the film to cut to black awkwardly because there is nothing left for the film to do. And speaking of cutting to black, Jarmusch makes the interesting decision to have each and every scene end with an abrupt cut to black, which lasts for several seconds before the next scene simply intrudes upon the darkness and silence that seems to be the flesh that fills out the space in-between the organs that are the film’s scenes. It was the touches like these that got me to thinking this was mostly a wannabe French independent film made in English.
I really don’t get where all the love for this film is coming from. One reviewer, speaking about this film two decades after it was made, makes the statement that it “permanently upended the idea of independent film as an intrinsically inaccessible avant-garde form”. That statement is one I don’t fully understand; if this film had been in a foreign language instead of English, it would have been exactly labeled an independent, avant-garde film, and nothing more. Jarmusch doesn’t make independent cinema any more accessible to the layman viewer or filmmaker as much as he merely transmutes the conventions of French independent cinema into 1980s New York, flaws and all, and the resulting film comes off as only a caricature of the independent film scene rather than a film that has a place at the vanguard of it. I can only hope that Jarmusch doesn’t pull a two-fer with this kind of stuff with his next film, which also made the list, cause he certainly doesn’t seem like the kind of director to scrape by with a barely-put-together film, what with his fanbase and all.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10