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  • I just finished watching Stranger Than Paradise on DVD - the first time I'd seen it since its year of release. I'd always recalled the film with fondness, although I could never remember why I liked it. Several years after seeing the movie I came across the John Lurie soundtrack and bought it without stopping to listen, and been slightly taken aback by it. The haunting pieces were more emotionally esoteric than I expected, and it took some time for the album to grow on me.

    Seeing the movie again, I understand why. The only piece of popular music in the film is Screamin' Jay Hawkin's "I Put a Spell on You" and, although I had forgotten that it was there, I guess that I had expected the soundtrack to be more like those of mainstream movies and have songs and such-like. I think that Lurie's music is perfect in situ and, as I've said, the soundtrack has also grown on me as standalone pieces.

    The movie itself is a masterpiece. The black and white images present a starkness and a clarity that heightens the alienation of self in a land that was supposed to be the new hope for immigrants from a decaying old world. Instead we see Eva walking through a deserted ghost world of New York where the graffiti says "Yankee go home". America is only a dream, a collective vision of a better world; paradise somewhere on earth.

    As Willie and Eddie journey west after winning some money, we see that the supposedly beautiful city of Cleveland is cold and desolate with a frozen lake. The further trip to Florida ends in the middle of nowhere next to a bleak and windswept ocean. Paradise is still somewhere out of reach. I think that's why the movie appeals to me. It shows that the America of popular mythology - the home of the brave, land of the free, protector of the downtrodden, guardian of democracy in the free world - is merely a construct. Too many people these days believe in the child's fantasy of America being some paradise that Iraq and Afghanistan should emulate. Jarmusch reminds us that it is people who give meaning to a symbol, not the other way around. He allows for the ability of people to make their own meanings and evolve beyond the stagnation of popular culture.

    At a time I originally saw this movie I had recently left home and got my first job, moving from the country to the city, and maybe to some extent I identified with Eva - moving from Budapest to America. It was also my first taste of grownup film, if I recall correctly, and confirmed me with a lifelong fascination with the cinema. I have a lot to thank Jim Jarmusch for.
  • Odd and inspiring. This film rings true with rich detail in its depictions of utter loneliness. Smoking many Chesterfields, watching television, playing solitaire, visiting Aunt Lottie, sightseeing at Lake Erie (for God's sake). It alters from tragic to comic from almost moment to moment, and often has a foot in both pools.

    Jarmusch is minimalist to the core with this one, and yet manages to pull off a solid story. A small black and white gem that deserves a larger audience.
  • Stranger Than Paradise, which put filmmaker Jim Jarmusch on 'the map' in the small but superlative crop of independent filmmakers of the eighties (he was the first, then came the Coen Brothers, then Spike Lee, and then culminating in the 90's with the 'new wave' of independent filmmakers). What he presents here is a unique little treatise on youth, on the subtle and disconnected qualities that go in life when you don't have much to do. In a way it's an existentialist film without many very serious questions to deal with story or even character-wise (except until maybe the last fifteen minutes in the "Paradise" segment). Like a French New-Wave film, to which Jarmusch was heavily influenced by (i.e. the gorgeous, grainy black and white photography by Tom DiCillo), he leaves more for the audience to ponder, as they go along on their journey.

    One of the things that Stranger Than Paradise has going for it is a sort of realism that, like and not-like a Wes Anderson film for example, is off-beat. Only here it is more of an urban sort of landscape and interiors that Jarmusch gives us with, along with its three principles. John Lurie as Willie is very good at having attitude when he needs it, but in reality is rather low-key in his 'hip-ness'. His cousin from Hungary pays him a visit (Eszter Balint as Eva, maybe too low-key at times, though appropriately observant of foreign territory). There is also his faithful companion Eddie, played in a great supporting tone and style by Richard Edson. The first segment of the film deals with her in New York. The second one has Eddie and Willie go to Cleveland to pay Eva a visit. Then in the third segment they go down to Florida to have some fun, only to have anything but.

    In other words, those looking for a film where a lot of things 'happen' may be disappointed, or just bored. I've seen the film twice now, and on the first viewing I was a little detached from what was going on on screen, which is just little things going on with the characters, like one would see in everyday life. But on the second viewing I somehow connected more with these characters, the youth that seem to drift needlessly along. The editing of the film is also the most simplistic, though highly effective, in adding to the disconnected quality of Jarmusch's direction- no cuts during dialog, just fading to black, fading up, fading to black, fading up (Jarmusch would continue this with Down by Law and Dead Man, though not as frequent or strategic).

    In fact, the whole film is rather deliberate in its style, but as the song that plays several times in the film "I Put a Spell On You" from Screamin' Jay Hawkins plays, it does work to bring a viewer in...or not. Like many in the "art-film" world, almost all of Jarmusch's films are either liked or not, and I think that's appropriate for his stories, which often deal with low-key characters dealing with unusual but either realistic or metaphorical situations. One thing I can say for certain, much like the French new-wave films inspired by it, it's imitated, but not equaled in its form.
  • 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.
  • Reading over the comments so far, it seems that most people think this film is great, with a rare few criticizing it for being a boring 'student-film'.

    People, this is for sure not a film for those who've been brutalized by too much Hollywood cinema - it's a quiet movie that you absorb slowly. It's very well done and quite absorbing. Sure it makes me think of so-called student-films (my brother is in film school), but that's not to say it's not a damn good one. There's something to be said for beautiful photography (the black and white images go so well with the feelings of emptiness and coldness) and the search for a meaning in life. These people are desperately in need of meaning and affection, none of which they seem to be able to find - or give. This is a movie about that desperate search.

    And it's well worth seeing - for those with a bit of patience and artistic sensibility. It's a movie about emptiness for sure, but is by no means 'boring'. I'd give it 4/5 stars.
  • Jarmusch was never much of a guy to dip in the mainstream; "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai" is about as Hollywood as you're going to get from him. His recent "Coffee and Cigarettes" might have alluded to his roots as an indie filmmaker, but its stories are monochromatic and offer little emotional variety save for the Albert Molina vignette. His best film might be this one, a miniature masterpiece that is underrated when compared to his other stuff. The basic premise of the film revolves around a New York immigrant from Eastern Europe, his goofy buddy, and his female cousin who comes to visit him and America as they jump from state to state.

    There isn't much of a plot for sure, but Jarmusch more than compensates for this fact by creating three distinct characters that manage to be sweet without resorting to cheap sentiment. These guys might be rude and frivolous at times, but they never lose their sense of embarrassed compassion, nor as a direct result their humanity as complete characters as well. There's a morose wit to all of these proceedings. All three actors truly seem to have a playful camaraderie, working the motions of a natural friendship with Jarmusch's direction that shows them at their happiest only to be disappointed again and again, like a kid getting clothes instead of video games at Christmas once more. This honest and easygoing subtext doesn't include undemanding Hollywood moments of syrupy tenderness or mawkish emotion. For once, the clichéd adage of characters writing themselves is probably true here, as the film has an almost improvised quality to it. Jarmusch gets the careful balance between static ugliness and a subtext of natural warmth just right.

    While the great heart of this film lies in its characterization, it's catapulted into greatness because of Jarmusch's quiet touch. In nearly every one of his films the director is obsessed with the awkward silences that make up nearly every relationship. He's much more revealing with the silences here, fleshing out character development in a car ride or while staring out at the blankness of snowy Cleveland. This brings me to my final point that Jarmusch again does with intelligence. When the characters move from city to city, they have a passionate belief that what they will find is something unbelievable. But the New York we see is a bunch of back alleys and graffiti. Cleveland is a blank white expanse, strangely vapid as opposed to pictorial. And Florida has to be the ugliest Florida ever depicted on screen, consisting mainly of a "Welcome to Florida" sign and a decrepit motel. While the main message is that life is often full of disappointments, that life is rarely full of transcendent moments, people can still connect with each other regardless of their surrounding environments. It's Jarmusch's best statement yet, and it's for these reasons this one must be seen even before even his fine "Mystery Train." The film, essentially a three-character comedy, is also thankfully kept brief, becoming genuinely meaningful and moving as a result.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie is all about boredom and disappointment, following the lives of three characters as they try to make life more interesting by moving to a different location. Willie is in the center of it, and he owns a small apartment in one of New York's lower-class neighborhoods. He is actually from Hungary, but he completely despises his heritage, and hates when his relatives speak to him in his native tongue. His cousin, Eva Mona, comes in from Hungary and he's forced to let her stay in his apartment. They both share a similar disdain for Eastern European culture, but Willie seems to be trying to delude himself that he enjoys his new American life. He tries to be complacent with eating TV dinners, playing card games, and watching TV for hours on end. Eva finds this completely boring and can't wait to go to Cleveland to stay with her Aunt Lotte. Although Willie and her begin on shaky grounds, by the time she leaves, a kind of bond grows between them.

    Willie has a good friend, Eddie, and they're both unemployed, getting their money through horse races and fixed poker games. They sense the boredom, the monotony setting in, and they're trying to avoid it. In fact, at one of their fixed poker games, they play with a few men who are in a similar situation: victims of repeated defeat and disappointment. One of them is at the breaking point and displays aggression while the others are cowardly, weak, resigned. They meet another man, a factory worker, and it's obvious that he doesn't enjoy being a working stiff. In an effort to try to avoid turning into these men, Willie and Eddie decide to take a trip to Cleveland and visit Eva.

    Cleveland isn't exactly as exciting as they had hoped, and Eddie, bored out of his mind, remarks that "Everything's the same". Eva is working at a hot dog stand and is involved with a man she's only half-interested in. n a matter of days, Eddie and Willie are reduced to sitting around playing card games again. The three decide to escape the monotony by going down to Florida and taking advantage of the wonderful weather. However, the weather is the only thing changes; the men go to the track to try and augment their funds while Eva spends most of her time inside. Once again, this paradise yields no heightened degree of happiness.

    The problem the three characters face is that they too often look for external factors to make them happy. Moving to somewhere nicer or making more money cannot change the numbing repetition; to do that, they must look on themselves and appreciate their company more. Unfortunately, by the end, the two men have become more like the people they were trying to avoid becoming: Willie is more aggressive, Eddie is more resigned.

    The film really isn't as depressing as this review may make it seem. It has some very funny moments and is generally entertaining. Even the boredom is fun to watch, and this is achieved because of the very realistic dialogue. I found myself often relating to conversations they hold, being all too familiar with the awkward pauses. The characterization is impressive as well; Willie, Eddie, and Eva are all believable and we can understand their problems. If anyone has ever been bored to tears, they'll know exactly what the three are feeling.
  • Watched for the second time the other night, and was struck how formal this really is. Every scene is a single take, some static, some with very stylized camera movement (static shot up the street to an approaching car; pick up car and track it as it passes, static again as it drives off). Occasionally an actor wanders off screen to the right, despite the camera trying to keep up; just this slight effect, surrounded as it is by so much silence and stillness, is enough to produce a slight frisson of tension. Blackouts separate the scenes, but either ambient sound or music cues continue as transitions during the cuts.

    The main characters' costumes underline their alienation from the world around them. Judging from the props & surroundings, film seems to be set in contemporary (early-1980s) time. Willie and Eddie dress and act like late-Fifties/early-Sixties racetrack touts, and they seem most at ease in the retro living room of Aunt Lotte, who presumably left Hungary during that period. Eva's costumes likewise proclaim 'outsider,' though the dreary black she wears can signify either a refugee from East Europe or a jaded bohemian poseur.

    First viewing a number of years back, I thought the film was offhanded and casual, with not much going on. A second viewing changed my mind - the absolute minimalism of the plot and dialogue leave plenty of space to explore Jarmusch's technique, composition, etc. It made me laugh out loud a couple of times, too.
  • "Stranger than Paradise" (1984): Jim Jarmusch's first film. Often listed as a "comedy" – and yes, I suppose there ARE a few oddly funny moments – for the most part I find it an intensely bleak film, empty of almost all life but for a few lone cruiser characters who are detached from everyone else. The photography is astoundingly beautiful black & white. They are almost shot as individual stills with minor movements in them, and divided by blatant black divisions, which one can think of as the black pages of an old photo album. The velvety rich blacks, grays, and whites, plus the composed "still" scenes, cause me to think Jarmusch was trained as a static, 2-D artist first. Just a guess. This film is NOT about acting, which is limited at best, but doesn't really need much. We observe an alienated set of scenarios which are only enhanced by the stiff, awkward exchanges and pauses of the characters, and the lack of movement in the camera work. Ambient sound adds to the gritty reality of emptiness. Funny or not, this is a low-key, lost-souls story of detachment and aimlessness.
  • jzappa11 September 2009
    Life is strikingly uneventful for Willie, played by renaissance man John Lurie, who refers to himself as a hipster and lives in New York City, and his interactions with his Hungarian cousin Eva, played by avant-garde actress-musician Eszter Balint, and his best friend Eddie, played by yet another actor-musician Richard Edson, who dresses exactly like Willie. Indeed, both males are swarthy with hook noses and fedoras. They have such little interest in or knowledge of anything that their eventual vacation is no different from home.

    The quirky way to three-act story format is a succession of single-shot scenes punctuated by black leader, and the clear-cut partition of the story into three straightforward, facetiously named episodes. Yet there are other ceremonial characteristics of substance: Tom DiCillo's black-and-white camera work, which provides Jarmusch's acute impression for the American panorama; and the arresting appliance of music, which favorably apposes Screamin' Jay Hawkins's I Put a Spell on You with the folksy tinges of John Lurie's score for string quartet. This is definitely a road movie, but one with a distinction: Different from most instances of the then still immensely fashionable genre, Stranger Than Paradise appeared simultaneously comprehensively American and strangely European.

    The oddly enlightening aggregate of involvement and reserve may be found in the film's lovingly absurd view of Willie's chic affectations, its quaint posture toward some of the inanities of American culture and in the way it harmonizes a decidedly American genre and decidedly American plot---if a narrative as gravely sparse and as concentrated on dead moments may be dubbed a plot---with all form of un-Hollywood expression. The look, rhythm, cast and mainly dismal feel bring to mind not The Blues Brothers, or even the rather subdued Last Detail, but the beginnings of the degree of minimalism to which Jarmusch would take his later work.

    However he also loves various attributes of popular culture. See how Willie and Eva watch Forbidden Planet on TV or go with Eddie and Eva's discouraged fancier to see a bone-crunching Hong Kong martial-arts flick at a Cleveland grindhouse, and lets them neighbor more virtuous aspects of his films, in such a way that there is no discrepancy between high and low. And it's for that scarce but wholly judicious mindset that Jarmusch is to be particularly noted. It's doable to distinguish his connection with a gamut of later American indie directors, specifically in his desert drollery, his passionately entertained captivation with slackers of sundry kinds, his concern with sequential framework, his affinity for severely subdued stories, and his clever, antiquated references to popular culture. All these, at a time scarce in American cinema, are now pretty ubiquitous. But the rhyme, the unabashed regard for cinema as a quality, production, expression, a realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance, even the mundanities of life and the most everyday scenery possible, that can confront crucial, important matters is far more difficult to come across.

    Considering, in the end, no matter how amusing, stylized, minute or insignificant his films may strike one at first, they are always about something. For all his cinephilia, they're inspired not, like Tarantino and Rodriguez, by other movies, but by life: by real people, encountering real feelings. And while this black-and-white deadpan pop culture satire may be a comedy, an dissection of cinematic storytelling, and a thoroughly cynical yarn, it's also a film about America and the people who live there. It's about those people's connections to each other, and their connections to the rooms they populate, the city streets, the suburbs, diners and highways. And it's made by someone who knows there may be reality in abstraction, who finds a visceral alliteration separating a snow-coated Lake Erie and a barren Florida beach, and who fashions an implausibly true character like Aunt Lotte, always jabbering to her tender company in Hungarian, whether they're listening or not.
  • The New World: The teenager Eva Molnar (Eszter Balint) arrives from Budapest, Hungary, and goes to the house of his cousin Willie, a.k.a. Bela Molnar (John Lurie) in a dangerous neighborhood in New York. Eva intends to travel to Cleveland to stay with her Aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark), but the old woman is in the hospital and Eva has to stay with the idle Wille, who is absolutely indifferent to her. They spend their empty days smoking Chesterfield, watching television and playing solitaire and Eva befriends Willie's friend Eddie (Richard Edson). Then Willie and Eddie are connected to Eva and they miss her when she travels to Cleveland.

    One Year Later: Willie and Eddie win a large amount in the poker game and they borrow a car and travel to Cleveland to visit Eva. They spend a couple of boring days in the house of Aunt Lotte.

    Paradise: Willie and Eddie invite Eva to go on vacation in Florida. However they lose their money in the dog racing. Willie decides to bet their last money in the horse racing and they win money. Meanwhile Eva is wrongly taken by another woman and receives a large amount from a stranger. She leaves money for Willie and Eddie and goes to the airport expecting to travel to Europe, but there is only one flight to Budapest. Meanwhile Willie and Eddie seek her out in the airport. Will Willie find Eva?

    "Stranger than Paradise" is an ironic and weird tale of emptiness and boredom by Jim Jarmusch, filmed in black and white and divided in three segments (acts). There are funny moments, like for example, when Willie has a phone conversation with his Aunt Lotte and tells that Eva will put his life on hold since the guy spends the days smoking, watching television, playing solitaire and gambling in the horse racing. Then he misses Eva, probably the only different thing that had happened in his boring and empty life. In the end, it is hilarious when Eddie asks to himself: What will Willie do in Budapest? "Stranger than Paradise" is not for every audience but those viewers that also enjoy cinema as art. My vote is eight.

    Title (Brazil): "Estranhos no Paraíso" ("Stranger in the Paradise")
  • bdpennington28 December 2000
    "Stranger than Paradise" is a stark and beautiful film. It could almost pass for Kerouac on film: the loneliness of America and the quiet desperation that is so brutally obvious and ever-present in its silence. And there are very few filmmakers who would have the daring or the insight to include long moments of silence such as "Stranger" has. Leave it to the existentialists to break a film-school taboo.

    This is obviously not a film to show your college drinking buddies. That's a good thing, though. It's a film that meditates, for lack of a better term. And it demands that the viewers meditate, contemplate the grey, endless skies and the endless layer of white that makes most life dormant or sluggish during winter.

    And when the characters arrived in Florida, it almost took me back to my childhood days when my family and I would arrive, by car, to some small town somewhere in America during summer; it brought to me that same sort of mild despair and disorientation that returning home from the family roadtrip always inspired.

    And, I dont know, there's something then altogether tragic about Florida in winter anyway. There's an eternal longing in these characters and I think we can feel it even more because of the landscapes Jarmusch used in this film. A Florida motel in winter, with the sun beating down; and Cleveland, during the same winter, soulless and icy.

    Beautiful, beautiful film and it's hard to stop commenting on the feelings it brings out. Shame though that Jarmusch hasnt really made a film that is as daring or expressive as "Stranger."
  • 'Stranger than Paradise' is a minimalist treasure. Though quiet and lacking action (so to say), the film still proves to be oddly deep in its depiction of loneliness.

    The characters all deal with the emptiness of life. They look for a greater meaning and affection from others. It is certainly a relatable pursuit and search for something you never seem to find. The beautiful cinematography and black and white images contribute to the stark emptiness and void in the characters' lives. The directing is made up of many scenes consisting of a single long take—unique to only a select group of movies.

    This independent film touched me, but it could easily not hit the mark with the masses. Its minimalism won't appeal to everyone. Nonetheless, 'Stranger than Paradise' proves itself to be a notable independent film.
  • Yes, it's slow...yes, it's in black and white with minimal sets...and yes the acting is somewhat flat, but I still like this movie a lot!

    Perhaps it's Eva's dryness and her deadpan quality as she comes to the fabulous USA for the first time. Maybe it's the mid-80's Reagan era hopelessness that I can still remember...Eva ends up taking her cousin on an adventure he didn't expect and pulling him out of his dull life (to an even duller Cleveland!).

    It doesn't move fast, and it's not as witty as some films...but if you remember that this movie was made 10 years before the mega-indie rebirth.......Pulp Fiction, etc, it may give you some 1983, amidst ET, the Star Wars Sequels, etc. etc. this film is a charming, if spare, breath of fresh air!
  • timnil22 May 2003
    A slow black and white film full of long pauses and minimal dialogue, Stranger Than Paradise can be a tough movie to watch for someone who is weaned on American pop cinema. It's constructed out of a series of shorts, stitched together to create a (somewhat) coherent whole. Two small time hustlers take their poker winnings and travel on a series of misadventures around America joined by the cousin of one of the con-men, an immigrant from Hungary. As with some of Jim Jarmusch's films, the focus is on the mundane in everyday life and how the characters approach it. The characters are looking for meaning in their empty and repetitious lives. Sort of an anti-road movie, there is some dry humor to break up the tedium. (6 out of 10)
  • Joel2511 August 2008
    Warning: Spoilers
    Like Permanent Vacation, this film establishes Jarmusch as standing for something alternative to the conventions of mainstream American cinema. It is altogether a more mature collaboration than Permanent Vacation, a stronger indication of important artistic sensibilities, and perhaps exhibits a more solid bond between aim and execution. It is where the boat moored after Permanent Vacation, so it is out of the same universe, the same general headspace, but in a different country, a new world.

    I'll recount a part of the story, because I liked it.

    Willie lives in Purgatory, somewhere in New York. He comes from Hungary, but suppresses his European heritage under a facade of hip film-noir Americanism. His cousin, Eva (the femme fatale if we see it as noir), who has just arrived in America from Budapest, blows into his life like bad news from an Aunt Lotte in Cleveland. Willie is forced to 'babysit' Eva while his aunt stays in hospital for 10 days. He is aggrieved by this disruption to his life, even though TV dinners, games of solitaire, and long sleeps are about the only things to disrupt.

    Willie's small, dour apartment holes them up for the duration like the prison in Down By Law. Their time together is uneventful in the large, but very frank in revealing the slow time ordinariness and emotional seclusion of Willie's life. He bans Eva from speaking in Hungarian even though he knows the language, he forbids her from answering his phone, prohibits her from going anywhere with him, presumably because it would contradict the barricade of his cool, noirish, self-image, and impatiently attempts to educate her in Americanisms he barely understands himself. Their only interruption from themselves or each other is a visit from Willie's gambling buddy, Eddie, whose warm and polite attempts to include Eva in their adventures outside are upset by his deference to Willie's personality. When it comes time for Eva to leave for Cleveland, Willie has acted upon a bud of affection but can only express it in jaded terms. He insists Eva wear a dress he bought for her, even though she doesn't like it, because she should dress like an American when she is in America.

    This is where the first part ends, or nearly. On the street, after Eva and Willie have exchanged goodbyes, Eddie finds Eva abandoning the dress that Willie bought as a gift. Eddie does not mention this to Willie, presumably because he does not want to hurt his feelings. It is all unspoken. Willie and Eddie sit and drink beer, both reflect on Eva's visit without speaking.

    Originally, the film ends here. It was shot using leftover film from Wim Wenders' The State of Things. A year or two later, the group decided to extend the film or finish it. I won't go into the next 2/3. Suffice to say, after hustling some money in a poker game a year later, Willie and Eddie decide to visit Eva in Cleveland. Perhaps Willie realised he was missing something and Eddie did hide a profound sense of loneliness.

    Stranger Than Paradise is shot in a way that subverts mainstream notions of entertainment and engagement. It is an action film, but its definition of action is subtle and internal, left to the sensitivities of the watcher to engage with. The weather is a strong and active force, negotiating the lives of the characters like another character. This, I guess, has something to do with Ozu, mentioned by Eddie in his reference to Tokyo Story as the horse to back while he reads Willie the odds.

    Jarmusch has been strongly influenced by and is educated in World cinema, establishing him as a kind of outsider at home, just like the characters. The film with its surface deadpan, hangs back from the perspectives of its characters in a kind of suspended relativism, which is throughout all of Jarmusch's work. The emotional depth is neither affirmed or denied. There is no absolute position.

    John Lurie (he played Willie and composed the music) composed sparse and sensitive strings to comment on his character, which serves to further the gap between the film's stance and its subject. This general stance does not endorse Willie's peevish superficiality nor does it extrapolate it into misfortune. It suggests a more natural, but didactic approach. A film noir protagonist's end always reflects on their preceding actions.

    Watch it if you haven't, watch it again if you have, or don't watch it. But it would surely fit any worthwhile definition of a 'good' film.
  • Stranger Than Paradise begins with Hungarian Eva immigrating to America where she stays with her cousin Willie for ten days in New York City before heading to an older relative's place in Cleveland, Ohio. Willie is ashamed of his Hungarian heritage and is resentful of Eva's stay which was intended to be much shorter. Eva ignores his rude behavior and the two eventually begin to bond. A year later Willie and his goofy friend Eddie borrow a car to visit Eva in Cleveland in spite of their lack of interest in the area. From there the trio sets off on vacation to a Florida paradise that never quite materializes.

    Although transients and others who are uncomfortable with their environments appear frequently in the films of Jim Jarmusch to this day, the theme of impermanence is particularly evident in his early work. His student film Permanent Vacation is about a man who slowly says goodbye to his home city before fulfilling the promise of the title, Mystery Train is a film set in Memphis with hardly any characters who have spent much time there, and Night on Earth takes place almost entirely in moving motor vehicles.

    Thus it's no surprise that none of the three main characters in Stranger Than Paradise shows any intention to acquire a steady job (or any job at all in the case of the male characters) or any reluctance to take an extended leave of absence from his or her normal life. These characters have a price to pay for their freedom, however: although they aren't tied down in any one place everywhere they go seems to be the same as the last place they were in. The areas they inhabit in New York, Ohio, and Florida are progressively less urban but they all look equally drab and uninviting; even the beach they visit looks utterly cheerless. These are characters whose hang-ups have nothing to do with their surroundings; they're going to find the same experiences no matter where they go because they have walled themselves into a perfectly insular world where they're free to behave the same way all the time and enjoy the same limited pleasures and discomforts. This is why Willie is just as unwilling to take Eva out with his friend in Florida as he is in New York. This isn't lost on the characters, however, as Willie responds to Eddie's complaint that even in a new place "everything looks the same" with three words: "No kidding, Eddie." While Eddie is barely bright enough to recognize their situation, Willie is too apathetic and arrogant to attempt to change it. The only character who ever seems to make a conscious effort to break free from the Sartrean purgatory they have slipped into is Eva, whose motivations tend to be hidden behind her inability to communicate with her self absorbed companions. She's as ineffectual as she is enigmatic, however, as ultimately even her most impulsive actions fail to bring about any meaningful change.

    Writer/director Jim Jarmusch does an excellent job of capturing the existential quandary of his characters through careful choice of locations and aesthetics. His camera tends to be still and his shots tend to be long; in fact the characters almost seemed to be trapped within the camera frame in many shots. Perhaps his most notable accomplishment in Stranger Than Paradise is his ability to capture locations that give a sense of disparate geography but still maintain a coldly similar atmosphere consistently. With only his second feature film Jarmusch was already beginning to find his own cinematic voice.
  • Polaris_DiB7 February 2009
    Warning: Spoilers
    Throughout cinema history there have been hundreds of examples of how someone has taken an extremely limited budget and made a magnificent thing out of it. Jarmusch's second feature and his first real introduction to the world is one of the best examples of that in terms of both aesthetics and entertainment value. The movie itself is a series of single takes divided by black leader, and never deviates from that form even in places where continuity editing could have been implemented. Indeed, every single shot is a vignette complete with its own beginning, middle, and end, and profoundly understated in simple ways. The seemingly flat black and white cinematography meshes with the wide-angle depth and creates a dynamic frame even though it's typically crowded with objects and characters (even though there are few set-pieces or characters). It looks like point-and-shoot but is so much more crafty than that.

    Jarmusch quite clearly wears his inspiration from Ozu on his sleeve and even references Tokyo Story in the dialog. But that said, Stranger than Paradise for me also mixed an acknowledgement of underground cinema such as Andy Warhol's Vinyl for simplicity's sake. In the same way that Vinyl is A Clockwork Orange in two crowded, dimensionless long takes, Stranger than Paradise is its own collection of self-evident virtuosity without the need for glamorous standards, making stars simply because it throws them up on screen, not because they are technically attractive people. In fact, the two main characters Eddie and Willie are kinda goofy looking, and all three main characters could be considered unattractive in their passivity and malaise. On the other hand, this movie, as noted often, is quite hip and certainly holds some Indie credentials (not that this is a bad thing, as it is definitely sincere).

    But it's just so smart in its approach. With limited celluloid and limited space, Jarmusch created an amazingly dynamic world. Without continuity editing, he created a very rhythmic and involved series of shots. Without relying on too much movement or action, he created characters of great depth and familiarity. And with low-grade black and white cinematography, he created a world to fit it all into.

    There are required viewing movies for classics and required viewing for film history. There are thousands upon thousands of movies that film buffs and film makers should watch or at least keep in mind about getting around to seeing. Stranger than Paradise is one of those I'd eagerly recommend to anyone who likes the thought of making movies but gets overwhelmed by the prospect of getting involved in what seems like such a complicated process. It just goes to prove that something amazing can be made out of something simple with a little forethought and a lot of care.

  • Even fans of quirky, off-beat cult movies will find this one hard to swallow for the entire 90 minutes. It has a few moments scattered throughout the picture, but mostly plays like someone's senior film project trying to graduate from film school. Even after you realize the look and feel he is trying to capture, the film's narrative structure is too sparse to create any intensity of effect or adequate unity. Obviously an early effort by Jarmusch with much better films of his to view in recent years.
  • I honestly think this is a film that people are afraid to admit they don't find funny or like. I read reviews from critics blasting films for not having enough plot, for being boring, for being poorly written, poorly acted, etc. And here is a film with all these negative attributes, and it's considered a classic.

    I went to film school with Ms. Balint and wanted desperately to like this film, watching it as much as four times -- twice on tape and twice on A&E. I did not find all those attributes others had christened it with because frankly, they do not exist. Then I remember The Elephant Man, and the early critics using the title to savage it; "It moves at an elephant's pace", read one. Then everyone jumped on the bandwagon and never a bad word about the film again. I think this is the case for Stranger Than Paradise. The film presents the boredom and monotony of three lost people's lives, and it succeeds by itself being boring and monotonous.

    I also think viewers have to put more into this film to seek enjoyment, just as an art critic will look at a solid black canvas and see the life cycle of man's humanity and mortality. And the fact is, it's just a black canvas. That is what I think this movie is. I just happen to think that it caught the people at Cannes during an odd time where they found it amusing, and then from that time out, everyone was afraid to say anything negative about it for fear of being ridiculed for "not getting it." In my opinion -- and acknowledging everything regarding the arts is subjective -- this is an average, gimmicky (mastershots and blackouts) student film.

    I would rate this film 1/2 star, if that at all. Sorry to disagree with all you intellectuals out there. I enjoy a good classic film, domestic or foreign, but I do not like films that sportnon-existent writing, acting, or direction. To be snide, I've seen the Emperor, and that b*****d is buck-naked.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    What a great film! Loved it, even before I saw it, watching it's quirky trailer at the "art house" theater near Lincoln Center, where the film eventually played for well over a year in the 80s. Seeing it again today, it felt just as fresh, funny, familiar, endearing, charming and goofy as the first time I saw it so many years ago. Boring? Heck no!!! Different? You Bet!!! BUT it also feels more like real life than all the reality shows on TV these days!

    Why I love this film so much:

    1. The film maker obviously loves the character's he's created -- from Willie's newly Americanized con-man wannabe, who has very real affection and love for his cousin, to his goof-ball best pal, Eddie, who has a heart of gold, to the shy, but ultimately sincere and down- to-earth Eva, mature and self-aware. They form a strong bond, simply by being with each other, simply by hanging out, simply out of human desire to connect with each other -- to not be alone. And the audience also shares, identifies with, and cares about the characters with all their idiosyncrasies and quirkiness. We are captivated, and in this sense, the movie, often described as being "avant-garde" or "minimalist", has a surprisingly old-fashioned feel to it!

    2. Aunt Lotte! Those of us who are 2nd Generation Americans, with grand parents who got off the boat in Ellis Island, sure remember Grand Parents who were just like Aunt Lotte. From the accent, to the comfortable, dowdy furnishings in her home, to the mountains of food offered to EVERYBODY who visits their homes -- plates of kielbasa, and sausage, and stuffed cabbage and the glorious Chicken Paprikash, to the heated temper they can possess, to the knowledge of the appropriate American cuss words. The character of Aunt Lotte is beyond real!! And consequently, hilarious.

    3. The look and feel of the older, more run-down, nondescript sections of NYC at the height of it's grimy, crummy glory, in the late 70s, early 80s with all the crime, and garbage, before the encroaching Disneyfication, gentrification, and sanitization of Manhattan! Of course it's better now, but this film shows that under-belly side of urban/non-touristy NYC, with pure realism.

    4. The look and feel of the older, more run-down, nondescript sections of freezing cold Cleveland in the midst of a good old fashioned snowy winter, with the bitter cold winds blowing off of Lake Erie. This, folks, is Cleveland in January!

    5. The look and feel of the older, more run-down, nondescript sections of Florida with the endless budget motels, lining the "Yellow Brick Roads" to Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. As beautiful as much of Florida is, lots and lots of Florida -- looks like this!

    6. Priceless scenes like Willie's sincere analysis and description of American TV dinners, to the silly Poker Game, where Willie and Eddie's rather awkward and juvenile "cheat" is exposed, to the hilarious Kung Fu Film seen by our 3 protagonists plus Eva's boyfriend wannabe. Only "hearing" the film, with the camera trained on the audience, we can remember every single cheap, Bruce Lee rip-off we watched in the budget theaters in the 70s and 80s, complete with endless "action" and crappy music.

    7. The structure of the the film from the small individual "blackouts" -- simple, seemingly fragmentary, but actually very carefully calibrated scenes which serve as glimpses and sort of cinema-like "selfies" without the traditional arc of a cinematic "scene". Just as effective -- just as revelatory, and actually nice and succinct.

    8. There is even an old-fashioned sense of a story, with very real suspense created in the final part of the film in Florida. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat the last 10 or 15 minutes wondering how this was all going to resolve itself. And here's the spoiler: It does resolve itself and it doesn't at the same time! Cool! i was fascinated how the movie's structure is so carefully worked out! Throughout most of the movie, we have 3 characters tied at the hip together, UNTIL the very last scene when all 3 go in very separate ways, though of course not by choice. This is a film that consequently makes you think as well!! Amazing!!

    9. The genuinely satisfying humor -- sometimes even laugh-out-loud (Aunt Lottie; Eva's disposal of Willie's gift to her that he was so proud of; that Kung Fu movie) It was all ultimately good-natured, and even though the film ends a bit wistfully, the overall feeling is one of having enjoyed getting to know the characters, sharing their experiences, and laughing -- well not with them, but certainly at them!

    10. Screamin' Jay Hawkins and his rendition of "I Put a Spell on You" MASTERFUL of Jim Jarmusch to include this raucous, hokey, wild tune as the leitmotif of the film! Jim Jarmusch puts a spell on us with this truly remarkable and justly lauded film!! It's both a time capsule of America in the later 20th century, and an enduring tale and character study for the ages!
  • Long lingering conversations, shots held for much longer than is necessary, and a plot that really goes nowhere: Stranger Than Paradise has all of the hallmarks to make it an art-house auteur classic, but don't mistake Jarmusch's flair for pretension. In fact the lingering shots and stunted conversations found in this film are anything but pretentious, rather they are the core of realism in cinema.

    We film lovers have long been trained in what to expect from a movie: dialogue has a natural sounding progression that moves us from plot point A to plot point B, characters have motivations that make sense, and stories go forward with an easy momentum. Stranger Than Paradise, contrary to these established modes of film making, just lets events, characters, and dialogue unfold in a manner much more similar to the real world than most other films. Conversations are not directed and shots are not carefully constructed and edited, rather the viewer feels like a fly on the wall as this collection of bored characters try to find something (anything) to talk about.

    The plot revolves (like many of Jarmusch's movies) around a cast of outsiders drifting aimlessly through life. Willie (John Lurie) is a bored New Yorker with a gambling habit, Eva (Ezter Balint) is his Hungarian immigrant cousin, and Eddie (Richard Edson) is their hopelessly optimistic tag-along friend, and our story follows these three as they travel through their dull lives making an issue out of everything.

    The actual plot, however, takes a backseat the real goings on in this film. The boredom and pointlessness is not meant to entertain in any usual way, but rather to force the viewer into a mode of existential thinking. These characters are not searching for entertainment or action (although they think they are), they are simply searching for themselves all over America. "What does it mean to be an American?" Jarmusch is asking of us, and furthermore, "what does it mean to simply 'be'?"

    Stranger Than Paradise provides no answers to these questions, but it does give a deep insight into the issues at hand. Like every single shot the characters fade in, exist for a time, and then fade out. Nothing is achieved, nothing is accomplished, thing just are. And that is where the beauty of the movie lies; in its simple act of existing.

    I suppose that some might find the whole thing pointless, and I would agree to an extent, but those who dismiss this film for its pointlessness are in for a very heated argument indeed. It's true that this is not the movie you want to throw in the player when you are looking forward to an evening of mindless entertainment with friends, but that doesn't lessen the movie's impact at all. It is a commitment to lock yourself into the film and really work your way through the melange of useless conversation and dead-pan editing, but I would say that it is well worth the effort. There is just so much to be gained from watching this film with an open mind and taking in the sheer beauty of its bared souls.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    From writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers), I had no clue what this film featuring the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book was about, and to be honest, that didn't change much when I watched it. Basically Willie (John Lurie) is a self confessed hipster and slacker living in New York City, and his Hungarian cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) has arrived unexpectedly for a surprise visit lasting for ten days, while Aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark) is in hospital. For a while he makes it clear he is not happy with her being around, but over time he enjoys her company, one instance where he really likes her is after she steals groceries and makes a TV dinner for him. The ten days pass and Eva is ready to leave, but is obvious Willie is upset after she has gone, Eddie (Richard Edson) made sure to help her out before she left, but Willie really wants her back. It is after winning a large amount of money cheating in a game of poker that the two friends start a journey to Cleveland, but even when they do find her, and spend some time with her friend Billy (Danny Rosen) they find they are just as bored as when they were in New York. Willie and Eddie decide rather than go back home to travel to Florida, and obviously they take Eva with them, but after settling a bit they lose all the money they have betting on dog races, and they try to win it back in horse races. After a trip to the beach Eva is mistaken for a drug dealer and gets a large amount of money, which she leaves some of for Willie, along with a note that she is going to the airport, and she sees the only European place to go is Budapest, her original home country. She decides to wait until the next day, and Willie and Eddie return having won all the money back on the horse races, but they find Eva has gone, and after seeing the note Willie rushes to get on the plane she should be travelling. The final shot though sees Willie getting on the plane to Budapest and it taking off, Eddie watches it take off and leave, but Eva has in fact gone back to the hotel they were staying, to an empty room. I can't really say anything much about the stars as I know none of them, only that they do a good job to not express many expressions and emotions at all, the same can be said for director Jarmusch, who creates a rather quiet film with not much going on, it is honestly a little dull, but that actually adds to the odd atmosphere and overall unpredictable feel of this strangely fascinating road movie drama. Good!
  • Rarely have I seen a film with so little action been executed to such great effects. Jim Jarmusch's ode to life in general and boredom in particular is both subtly hilarious and superbly stylish.

    Most films that deal with people being bored tend to become a bit boring themselves, but Stranger Than Paradise had me sitting with a smile on my face for the entire duration. Its biggest accomplishment is that it seems so true to life – the characters mostly just sit around talking, and the dialogue is remarkably realistic and seemingly improvised. And just like in real life, sometimes they haven't even got anything to talk about, like when Eddie (a wonderfully relaxed Richard Edson) goes to Willie's (John Lurie) apartment, after which they sit quietly staring down into the floor. Even when the two of them go on vacation to Cleveland, they spend most of the time in a house watching television, and Eddie remarks that all places look the same. That being said, the film does have a plot of sorts, even if it is a rather loose one, about Eddie, Willie and Willie's cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) going on a road trip together. Along the way, there are some more directly comedic scenes, such as when Eddie and Willie follow Eva and her date to the movies, or when Willie's aunt beats them all at a card game.

    The sparse narrative structure is perfectly matched by Jarmusch's simple direction. It makes great use of a static camera, and the black and white visuals are slightly grainy and in a sense quite unremarkable but at the same time strikingly beautiful. The imprecise editing, where most scenes are followed by a second or two of darkness that lets them sink in, along with the recurring use of I Put a Spell on You by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, also adds to the independent, bohemian vibe of the film.

    Apart from a few subtle cultural references, such as the fact that a race horse is named Tokyo Story, there doesn't seem to be much more to Stranger Than Paradise than what meets the eye. Luckily, there is often not a whole lot more to life either, making this the perfect film to watch whenever you have nothing better to do.
  • This is the third and final Jarmusch film that I recently got on sale(the other two being Night on Earth and Mystery Train; I have watched Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, as well). He has this approach that is far from being Hollywood and mainstream. This is the most radical in that respect, of the four. There are no "cuts"; every scene is one shot, and while the camera may move a little to follow the people, it will never go to a different take. The editing and cinematography are yet again subtle and do not draw attention to themselves. There is hardly any plot(and there isn't meant to be). The dialog is minimalist. It's about the credible and consistent characters and the environment, and it also deals with immigration and culture. Willie is a hustler in NY, trying to run away from his background; it gets on his nerves when his cousin(who comes to live with him, much to his dismay) and his aunt speak Hungarian. The acting is mixed. This has next to no music, and it isn't a manipulative production. It isn't for everyone; many will find it "boring", and if what I've described thus far sounds like it would be dull, then you may not be in the intended audience. There is no offensive material in this. I recommend this to any fan of Jim and anyone open to independent and artistic movies in general. 8/10
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