16 November 2000 | jhclues
Absorbing Film By Jarmusch
An excellent example of why independent films are so invaluable, `Stranger Than Paradise,' written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, is a bare-bones production that never would have found the light of day in the mainstream. Essentially a character study, the story is a glimpse into the lives of three people: Willie (John Lurie); his cousin, Eva (Eszter Balint), recently arrived in New York from Hungary; and Willie's friend, Eddie (Richard Edson). After a couple of weeks in the Big Apple with Willie, Eva moves to Cleveland to live with their Aunt; a year later, Willie and Eddie are off to visit her. One thing leads to another, and the trio wind up in Florida (the designated paradise of the title). Watching this film is like spending time with some people you know; the characters are real people, so much so that watching them becomes almost voyeuristic, the camera somehow intrusive, exposing as it does the private lives of these individuals. It succinctly captures their lack of ambition, the ambiguity with which they approach life, and the fact that they seemingly have no prospects for the future beyond whatever a lucky day at the track affords them. The action, such as it is, is no more than what you would find in the average day of someone's life. The dialogue is what drives the film, though frankly, nothing they have to say is very interesting. And yet, this is an absolutely engrossing film; sometimes amusing, at times hilarious, but mesmerizing throughout. The performances are entirely credible, and again, you never have the sense that these are actors, but rather real people who happen to have had some moments from their lives filmed and presented to the audience for perusal. Jarmusch has an innate sense of capturing the essence of the everyday and transforming the most simplistic and mundane events into refreshingly documented, worthwhile viewing. It's an inspired piece of film making, helped to some extent by the stark black&white photography that adds to the realism of the overall proceedings. The use of brief blackouts during transitions works effectively, as well as providing the film with a unique signature. Original music is by Lurie, but the highlight is the use of the song `I Put A Spell On You,' by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, used recurringly throughout the movie, and which exemplifies that special touch Jarmusch brings to his projects. And there's a superb bit of irony at the end that really makes this gem sparkle. The supporting cast includes Cecillia Stark (Aunt Lotte), Danny Rosen (Billy), Tom DiCillo (Airline Agent), Richard Boes (Factory Worker) and Rockets Redglare, Harvey Perr and Brian J. Burchill (as the Poker players). `Stranger Than Paradise' may not be to everyone's liking, but to those seeking an alternative to the typical Hollywood big-budget fare available, it just may fit the bill and provide a satisfying, entertaining experience. I rate this one 8/10.