COFFEE AND CIGARETTES
A series of vignettes, made with actors and musicians (some of whom are well known) who meet at a table in one café or another, smoke cigarettes over coffee, and talk about nothing in particular as we do. The conversations sometimes focus on the meeting itself, other times on distant subjects and occasionally on the harm that smoking does to health. And sometimes, it's all about the nature of fame itself.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
From the 30s to the 60s were the decades of coffee and cigarettes, both on and off screen. These socially acceptable and much consumed drugs were also the oil of social connection, enabling even strangers to literally strike up a conversation on the pretext of a smoke. How you drank your coffee and smoked your cigarette were signals in the language of instant communication as powerful as body language. Look at the cool films of the period, and see the cool characters smoke one way, the uncool smoke another.
Jim Jarmusch doesn't directly document any of this, but he references the social connection that smoking and coffee drinking provided in a contemporary setting. (He and Roberto Benigni started the idea in 1986.) This series of vignettes puts together likely and unlikely couples or groups, real and imaginary, over a coffee (in a couple of instances tea) and cigarettes. The black and white photography reflects the colours of the drugs, and the stylised locations are visually connected with a chequered table cloth or table top. There is no thematic link between them, except the conceit that these miniature conversations are all taken from day to day meetings of people in a social context.
It doesn't work as a whole or even in most of its parts. But ... it's not altogether a waste.
The highlight is unquestionably Cate Blanchett in a dual role as her star touring self and a less successful cousin whom she meets in the lobby of the hotel between media interviews. As with all the pieces, Jarmsuch frames his subjects tightly, removing the larger physical context, focusing us on the intimate exchanges. The Blanchett script is the best, followed by the meeting of Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan. Both of these explore the relationship of celebrity and fame in the entertainment world, and their effect on the individuals. Both are edgy, painfully truthful about the vanity and the love-hate nature of fame, and work beautifully within the whimsical concept of the film.
Review by Louise Keller:
From irritating to riveting, Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes is a delicious concept that may not always work, but fluidly takes us from one reality to another. It acts as introduction to diverse characters whose conversation varies from pleasantries to profundities. Coffee and Cigarettes are the constant and often the focus - shot in striking black and white, emphasising the black liquid swirling in white cups, cigarettes the accessory, flitting frenetically from hand to mouth and finally to ashtray. Structured into a series of short segments, the essence is about people meeting and communication - or not. Jarmusch has gathered an extraordinary cast - as diverse as Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni and rapper GZA. By using their own names, the cast enforces its own personality on the characters - imagine Bill Murray as a waiter, drinking coffee from the coffee pot.
Often presumptuous and perhaps even arrogant in the belief that we would be engaged watching two characters talking about literally nothing, Jarmusch develops the idea, allowing it to swell like a buoyant wave. There are moments which are awkward and even (dare I say) boring, but there are also moments of sheer magic - like Cate Blanchett's dual role in the segment entitled 'Cousins', when the privileged and the everyday worlds collide as Cate the Star meets Cousin Shelly in a hotel lounge. This is the performance highlight of the film; the disconcerting thing is that fact appears to be woven into the script as Cate the Star enthuses about her husband and baby. Cousin Shelly is the antithesis of ever-gracious Cate - resentful, bitter and snappy.
Another highlight is the entertaining segment in which Alfred Molina meets with Steve Coogan. What a treat, as we squirm with Molina while Coogan makes every excuse under the warm LA sun as to why he should not divulge his home phone number to his new acquaintance. Almost melting under Molina's praises for his works in such films as 24 Hour Party People, the piece de resistance comes when a panting female fan comes asking Coogan for his autograph; the only piece of paper she can come up with is in fact her passport, which the faceless (and aptly dressed backless) fan asks him to sign.
I found some of the repetition annoying (the constant clicking of cups, saying 'cheers', and the repeated message that coffee and cigarettes are bad for you), but the message that comes over loudly and clearly, is that irrespective of which of life's boards you are treading, there is a common factor that links us all. Coffee (and Tea) and Cigarettes are the props that allow the juices of communication to flow.
Email this article
COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (G)
CAST: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinqué Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joseph Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella jnr, Cate Blanchett, Alfred Molina, Bill Murray, Steve Coogan and others
PRODUCER: Jason Kliot, Joana Vicente
DIRECTOR: Jim Jarmusch
SCRIPT: Jim Jarmusch
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom DiCillio, Frederick Elmes, Ellen Kuras, Robby Müller
EDITOR: Jim Jarmusch, Terry Katz, Melody London, Jay Rabinowitz
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Bishop, Mark Friedberg, Tom Jarmusch
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 19, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: Febriaru 2, 2005