Friday, January 13, 2006

"Well, the past is gone, I know that. The future isn't here yet, whatever it's going to be. So, all there is, is this. The present. That's it."

i want you

As bad as it may be of me, I don't tend to sit through the credits of most movies. I get up after 10 seconds or so, just as the cast credits start rolling and I walk out of the theater, or I hit the stop button and get up and go do something else. Only on very rare occasions have I been so transfixed, so utterly drawn into and moved by a film that I must sit, must give myself some time to ruminate, digest and get a hold of myself before I can move on. That's when I know I've seen a really great film. It's not necessarily a sad emotion that motivates this need for repose, I've experienced this after great comedies as often as great tragedies, rather the feeling that I need this time. I felt that way the first time I saw Broken Flowers, I sat in a silent daze in the empty theater as the credits scrolled, and I felt that way again when I watched it at home on DVD the other night.

I found Broken Flowers deeply moving, as I often find Jim Jarmusch's films to be. For the record, I place this film at the top of his body of work, right alongside Dead Man. I love his somewhat fragmentary, vignette style of story-telling and I think it really serves this story of ennui and displacement extraordinarily well. A book I was reading last week really struck me in the way that each chapter stood off by itself really well as a self-contained work, while still helping to serve the overall narrative. Because I was still reading this book at the time, one of the first things that popped into my head as I was watching this film was how each chapter in it, bookended by slow fades in and out, could easily stand alone as a great short. It's a beautiful way to work, focusing on each individual moment so closely in lieu of taking the forest for the trees route, and I think that due to this method Jarmusch has managed to forge a very unique and beautiful cinematic language all his own.

Bill Murray's Don is a listless aging ladies' man. His every action communicates apathy, or at the very least a sense of futility. When his girlfriend leaves him at the beginning of the film, he doesn't emote. All he can offer is "What do you want me to do?" When he discovers he has a son he's never met, his excited friend Winston, played by Jeffrey Wright, tells him he should go on a journey to meet him. Don remains uninterested and lethargic, opting instead to sit on his couch in the dark. Eventually he agrees to go and, the night before, he has a solitary going away party of sorts in the form of a two minute long scene in which Don does nothing but sit on a couch, staring off into space while listening to Marvin Gaye's "I Want You." It would be easy to mistake the moment as self-indulgent, and I think it could be in someone else's hands, but Jarmusch is such an honest and genuinely compassionate and interested filmmaker that he manages to build this character in very beautiful, simple and subliminal ways with scenes such as this. Don sits across from a freshly opened bottle of champagne, presumably a celebratory drink marking the start of his journey to track down his exes and hopefully his son, but he doesn't touch it. It's the most melancholy celebration you've ever seen. The way Jarmusch drags the scene out for so long, building anticipation in the viewer that something is going to happen, that he will get up, take a sip of champagne, anything, is uncanny. It builds and builds and then the scene slowly fades out with the song. It's devastatingly simple and beautiful.

Equally interesting are the driving scenes that function as segues between Don's encounters with his exes. They consist of various shots of the road and Don driving while listening to Winston's travel mix, a disc filled with Ethiopian jazz. The fact that he's apparently chosen to only listen to this on his journey, that these songs have become a sort of funky mantra for him is fascinating. The songs groove in much the way you'd expect a ladies' man to, but they're mainly composed in somber minor keys. What you've got at the end of the film is one unwittingly groovy, yet ultimately depressed man who has just awakened to the fact that he has no idea where it is he wants his life to go and less and less time on his hands to figure it out.


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