July 29, 2005

Unconventional filmmaker Jarmusch turns to suburbia

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, known as a
cinematic risk-taker, is now taking chances in an unexpected
way -- by flirting with the mainstream in his latest movie,
"Broken Flowers."

The comedy starring Bill Murray drops the stark settings
associated with the art house darling's earlier work and
instead offers a tour of the suburbs and a reflection on life
and love.

Countering its swerve toward conventionality by maintaining
an eccentric beat and sensibility, the film by writer-director
Jarmusch won the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes Film Festival
and begins playing in U.S. theaters on Aug. 5.

"This is an odd one for me," said Jarmusch, who made his
mark with quirky, darkly comic, artistic films like "Stranger
Than Paradise (1983) and "Down By Law" (1986) that often depict
journeys, examine fate and look at life from an outsider or
foreigner's perspective.

"Broken Flowers" offers some familiar strands but its
odyssey through a suburban world takes the filmmaker outside
his comfort zone.


Jarmusch dislikes his main character, which he created
expressly for Murray. He abhors retrospection yet has his
protagonist confront his past four times over and sheds his
'guy film' image by using an array of actresses including
Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton and Frances Conroy.

In "Broken Flowers," devout bachelor Don Johnston has been
dumped by his latest lover and resigns himself to being alone.
But an ex-lover's anonymous letter telling him he fathered a
son 19 years earlier moves Johnston to confront his past.

Goaded into action by his Ethiopian neighbor, played by
Jeffrey Wright, Johnston seeks out his former lovers, getting a
glimpse of his past and a taste of what might have been.

"I don't identify at all with Don Johnston at the
beginning. I don't even like him. That's very unusual for me.
In all my films, no matter how damaged or socially inept
characters may be, I really feel for them. I love them.

"I don't love Don Johnston. I don't care about some rich
guy that made money off computers, had pretty girlfriends and
doesn't know what he's doing."

So topsy-turvy was the experience that Jarmusch did the
editing process in reverse -- starting from the last scene and
working backwards.

"I didn't feel for him in the beginning, but I want to feel
for him in the end," Jarmusch said about his protagonist. "It
was six weeks of editing before we started looking at the
film's beginning."


The beginnings of the project included a New York night
stroll with Murray.

"We walked all the way from the Lower East Side to the
Upper East Side (about 4 miles) talking the whole time,
preparing the character," said Jarmusch, who prefers shaping a
character with an actor rather than rehearsing scenes.

"We were talking about our lives, human nature and love,
and love stories and things that misconnect and why they

Jarmusch said he consciously tried to create strong female
characters in this project.

"In my life I've learned a lot more from female friends and
lovers and people close to me than I have from male friends,"
he said. "Maybe because I don't understand them completely.

"A lot of my female friends said, "'Down By Law" is really
a boys' movie, and "Ghost Dog" is really a boys' movie, and so
is "Dead Man." We like them but you make boys' movies.'

"Well, I'm a boy, you know?"

One trademark element in "Broken Flowers" is a provocative
soundtrack, including a mesmerizing lead-in song, "There Is An
End," by The Greenhornes featuring singer Holly Golightly.

Jarmusch said he feels no urge to join some new wave
directors who have found big-budget studio collaborations.

"To me, I like the margins. I'm not a mainstream guy.
Whether it's literature or music, the mainstream doesn't speak
directly to my heart, and that's where I get inspired by the
world of ideas," Jarmusch said.

"Where they cross with business is a very complex thing.
But I don't do this for business. I do it because I love ideas
in the form of filmmaking."