Cinema Signal:

Film-Fest DVD
Issue 3

. "Broken Flowers"

When a man with comedic gifts speaks very little, almost everything he says might be enough to crack you up. Which is the reward of this movie--a marriage between Jim Jarmusch's inclination toward radical filmmaking and Bill Murray's grounding in hilarious deadpan. Murray is a guy who knows how to load up a punch line.

But one line that his character, Don Johnston, will never get in is the one that leads to matrimony. Marriage is just not in the cards. Bachelorhood is so ingrained in his DNA that when Sherry (Julie Delpy), the sexy babe he's been living with, gives him a last chance to say something about moving to the next step in their relationship, which she declares with luggage in hand, it takes him a blank two minutes to weigh the options. By that time, of course, she has moved--out, and Don is back in his elegant living room, alone.

But, that's just temporary. Next door is best friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) and family, neighbors to count on in times of stress, alienation or just thirst. Plus Winston plays at being a sleuth, tracking clues, analyzing forensics, handwriting, the works. Which, combined with a super sense of what a friend does for another, is going to become very relevant for the plotline.

It starts when Don receives a pink letter in a pink envelope with no return address, signature or any clue to who might have sent it. The letter itself is enough to send a man into a tailspin... if he takes it too seriously, which Don tries mightily not to. The writer declares herself to be one of his ex-lovers and writes to inform him that she had a child by him. Their boy, now 19, has expressed interest in finding his father, making the letter a fair warning of a possible impending visit.

It's logical and, when Winston finds nothing to go on to identify the sender, he tells Don to make a list of the women in his life who could be the letter's author. Don would then take a trip to revisit each one in an attempt to uncover the telling clue: the son, the typewriter, the recognition.

The picaresque journey that Don reluctantly takes would be awkward were it not for the satiric context. The four reunion interludes deal with awkwardness by putting it aside, varying in duration from overnight to scant minutes, and go from delighted and welcoming (Sharon Stone) to accusatory and violent (Tilda Swinton) to weird (Frances Conroy and hubby Christopher McDonald) and mystifying (Jessica Lange and ChloČ Sevigny).

Following Winston's direction, Don always presents himself at the door with a bouquet of flowers, explaining the title. While there may be something broken in all these past lives, it's at Swinton's doorstep that the flowers become literally smashed.

In a style that gives Murray's comic genius all the room it needs to flourish in an atmosphere of mystery and whimsy, Jarmusch allows for his actor's blossoms of deadpan humor to sprinkle the sheer absurdity of the premise. Not that it doesn't bring us belly laughs in the context of reality ("Lost in Translation," and more voluble satire ("The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"). But, while the premise might belong to an alternate universe, I feel I have to thank Jarmusch for the creation of intelligent comedy that comes along seldomly.

He also gathered a splendid supporting cast of actresses, the sightings of whom are always fascinating. In this Jarmusch perspective, they provide unique and tasty dimensions to the picaresque tale with contrasting energy levels and perspectives. And, how about 21-year old Alexis Dziena ("Wonderland") who plays Sharon Stone's Laura's daughter Lolita. This little doll removes her clothes at the sight of a strange man with flowers and her daring appearance in three dimensional nudity may sell more tickets than the filmmakers want publicly to admit, once word gets around.

For me, this is Jarmusch's best. It's as much mystery as it is comedy, and it relieves me to have been so entertained by something from his singular approach to film after the grindingly experimental "Coffee and Cigarettes." It shows that sometimes you can't judge an artist by one canvas alone.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Bill Murray and Julie Delpy
The obdurate bachelor loses a luscious live-in

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