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Thread: Broken Flowers (2005)

  1. #16
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    Dead Man

    If Bill Murray was Finnish then it’s likely that he already would’ve been part of a few Aki Kaurismäki films. This Finnish giant’s trademark dead-pan low-brow style and humor has had a huge influence on Jim Jarmusch, especially early on in his career, but it seems like he has now gone back and stolen one of Kaurismäki's protagonists for Broken Flowers, his latest meditation on rootlessness and belonging. Kent Jones once said that Bill Murray is not an "actor." And Jarmusch has never particularly liked actors so this is a perfect match between two individuals who’ve been honing their craft for years. Murray plays Don Johnston, an aging Don Juan who, with much help from an Ethiopian neighbor (Jeffrey Wright), goes on a trip to locate the woman who has sent him a letter claiming that he has a son.

    The sort of world Jarmusch usually creates in his films is never quite "realistic," and it’s not meant to be so (a great example of this would be his 1999 feature Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai with a modern day Samurai patrolling Jersey City). So there’s no need to be alarmed even if it’s quite unlikely that an Ethiopian with five kids would be living next door to someone like Murray with his posh pad. Nevertheless, Jarmusch, as he establishes with a tracking-shot early on, wants us to compare the differing environments of the two individuals. As for the "Don Juan" talk, well, it’s quite easy to decipher that from the film Murray is watching on his HD set, but people who’ve actually seen that film (Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Don Juan [1934]) will note that the old film also had an aging Casanova trying to reconnect with his old flames. (Frankly, I have an easier time buying Murray as a Don Juan than as someone who made money with computers, whatever the hell that means.)

    Broken Flowers has wit and charm to spare. It’s also meticulously observed (for the most part) and exquisitely arranged but Jarmusch, unlike Dead Man (1995) and the aforementioned Ghost Dog, never quite manages to study and explore the various clichéd elements he establishes once our Don Juan hits the road. The "Lolita" segment is practically saved by Bill Murray’s "non-reaction" reaction even though Jarmusch’s act here seems more like a Payne-esque riff on mid-American aloofness to our literary and cinematic worlds. And the subsequent segment is over-acted and directed so it ends up being quite rigid, right down to a block of rice staring Murray in the face. But Jarmusch and Murray’s journey finishes up strong with the third segment featuring the funniest line the film. We also start noticing what kinds of problems these relationships might've had.

    Jarmusch's musical choices are usually on the mark and that’s exactly the case here. From The Greenhornes’ "There is an End" to "I Want You" from Marvin Gaye, but especially it’s the various Jazz tunes from Ethiopian Mulatu Astatke that help establish and keep a certain mood right till the end. Murray, whose segment with RZA and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan was the sole interesting aspect of Jarmusch's previous effort Coffee and Cigarettes (2004), gives a minimalist "non-performance" performance which is the best of his career. He basically controls the film with his eyes and that’s quite a task. And he even comes through in the scene in which he is required to act. That scene takes place near the end of his journey and it gives the film some weight that it lacked. One only wishes that Jarmusch would've dropped his quizzically cool act for a few more sequences with heart, only because a film like this required it. He does finish the film strong, though, leaving quite a few possibilities for us to mull over. But unlike Stranger than Paradise (1984), which I still believe is his best film, or even Dead Man, and very much like its own protagonist, it’s likely that Broken Flowers will not mature with age.


    Grade: B

    _________________________

    *BROKEN FLOWERS is now playing in theaters nationwide.

  2. #17
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    I think you're too harsh. Some interesting observations. I don't see what's wrong with Murray. The film was created for him. If he needs to "act" more, then the film is wrong too. It's different from other Jarmusch in style, but for me it works very well. No it's not as great as Dead Man, not much is, and not as much fun or as casual as most of his earlier movies, especially the first three. But I find it lets in more of the world, gets more specific about American society, and has a very well thought out screenplay that has much resonance, as I said above. It's too soon to say it won't "mature with age." Time will tell. Good what you said about the musical aspect, and you know far more about that than I, but you somewhat neglect the visual aspects.

  3. #18
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    Actually, Kent Jones’ comment on Bill Murray’s acting was sort of a backhanded compliment. And my reaction calling it “minimalist” certainly was. While it may not seem like he’s doing much, the way Murray grips the screen even when he’s simply staring into space is something remarkable. That is acting, but not the kind we’re used to watching and admiring. It’s like an opposite of what Sean Penn does.

    I’d like you to expand on “I find it lets in more of the world, gets more specific about American society.” I’m not sure if Jarmusch was quite successful here, even though it’s possible that was something he attempted. As I mentioned, the first segment was too easy, a bit cheap, something that wouldn’t look out of place in an Alexander Payne film. The shots during the travel didn’t carry the same significance as the ones from, say, The Brown Bunny, where we watched another man going back to connect to his past in someway (it certainly doesn’t help that Jarmusch shot the whole thing in Jersey).

    As for visual aspects, I didn’t notice anything that was worth mentioning. The B&W of Stranger than Paradise and Dead Man is what Jarmusch is associated with. What did you think?

  4. #19
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    You're right, the shots in Brown Bunny are more beautiful, the travel/road trip parts. However there are lots of interesting shots of houses and interiors in Broken Flowers I think. I think the little panorama of former now resettled girlfriends is a panorama of middle class America of sorts and I don't think he did that before, he was formerly rather more concentrated on oddballs and hip misfits. Even the possible "son" at the end has more real physicality than Jarumush formerly bothered with. The Dead Man people have physicality too, but they're like tintypes. That's what I mean by "lets in more of the world," meaning the world of contemporary America, and even the Murray character is more conventional, middle class. By the way I've pondered your comment that you can't quite believe him as a guy who made a lot in computers, and I don't think you can tell. I know a classmate from college who made a huge amount in computers, and he just looks like a sad sack too. I hope he doesn't read this.

    What's so terrible about looking like an Alexander Payne film? I'm not quite sure. It''s rough to hold an artist to immitating his past work. Even if you're right, in this context it doesn't feel like Alexander Payne. Yet......

    I love the B&W especially in Dead Man, which is quite fantastic, masterful, evoking period photography in ways nobody has ever achieved before. But I think the content of the images is very thoughful. Not all Jarmusch's photography was ever marvellous, just some of it. Stanger Than Paradise is just a look, the camera is not brilliant. Not that I don't like it, and of course the famous blackout transitions, which seemed kind of revolutionary and terribly hip at the time, and gave the movie a great rhythm.

    Shooting all in New Jersey is unfortunate, but it's the closeups of insides and outsides of houses that he's focused on, and the lesbian animal communicator's place looks a lot like the West Coast to me.

  5. #20
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    There are four aspects of Broken Flowers I found most significant/meaningful/interesting:

    *I see Don and the four women (and also Dora's husband) as being a cross-section of the baby-boom generation so one can actually regard these characterizations as generational commentary.

    *The tracking shots from Don's house to Winston's explicitly encourage the viewer to compare and contrast. The households seem to have been placed next to each other purposefully, however unlikely or unrealistic that may be.

    *Broken Flowers seems to advance the notion that the "Don Juan" lifestyle leads inexorably to loneliness and alienation.

    *The dedication to Jean Eustache and Jarmusch's apparent cinephilia open the door for cross-referencing other films. I think it's quite possible Jarmusch makes a connection between his film and Eustache's The Mother and the Whore (a film about the aftermath of the failed May '68 revolution and Eustache's best-known movie by far). For me, this reinforces my take on Broken Flowers as a film about what happened to those who came of age during the 60s in America ("Flower Power" and all that).
    Moreover, did anyone also thought of Bill Murray munching on raw carrot in Rushmore while viewing the dinner scene at Dora's "prefab" home?

  6. #21
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    I agree with all you say, especially the idea that each woman is a generic comment on a certain generational type and lifestyle in America -- and they're somewhat interchangeable, according to chance and economic context, though each represents a radically different set of choices.

    I think all the houses are meant to be studied and contrasted. And by the way I don't think it's impossible especially in a small town for a big expensive house to be next door to a relatively modest one. There's quite a variety just in the few blocks around where I live.

    I'm not sure about the critique of the "Don Juan" lifestyle, which would be tritely obvious anyway, because I'm not sure Don Johnston is really a Don Juan so much as simply somebody who got involved with a lot of women and didn't stay with any of them. He was a butterfly. He flitted from flower to flower. The "Don Juan" moniker dignifies his indecision and inability to commit; this is obvious, but whether it is a point Jarmusch really wants to make is questionable. It's partly just an excuse for s sequential series of stunning vignettes, which is the film's structure and purpose. I appreciate your cross referencing. If this movie goes relatively unappreciated it will be an even worse crime than the ho-hum reaction to The Life Aquatic. It is a richly resonant screenplay and it's visually rich too.

  7. #22
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    johann has posted a review of Broken Flowers on the Jim Jarmusch thread here: http://www.filmwurld.com/forums/show...2731#post12731

  8. #23
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    Here is my review

    BROKEN FLOWERS

    Directed by Jim Jarmusch (2005)

    Bill Murray turns emotional deadness into an art form in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, a film that carefully calculates idiosyncrasy and takes Bill Murray's sleepwalking persona one more step into caricature. The film follows Don Johnston's (note the subtle Don Juan allusion) quest through the American hinterland to discover which of four women from his past may be the mother of a nineteen-year old son he was informed about via an anonymous pink letter and who has set out to find him.

    Engineered by his neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), a working class black family incongruously living next door to a millionaire, Johnston (Murray) goes on a trip with the same lack of energy that he displays at home after his girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) walks out on him. During the course of the film, we learn nothing of why Don is so apathetic, how the attractive women could have fallen for him in the first place, or what he hoped to accomplish by the search. While it is true that the first step in the journey of discovery is to acknowledge the mistakes you made in the past, Jarmusch paints Don's old flames as cardboard characters with little believability so that it is unclear what mistakes were made and by whom.

    He meets and delivers a bunch of pink flowers to former lovers Laura (Sharon Stone), a widow with a sexy younger daughter named Lolita (wink, wink), (Alexis Dziena), a former hippie named Dora (Frances Conroy), now a bored middle class real estate agent, Carmen (Jessica Lange), a former lawyer turned animal communicator (a really clever New Age dig) with a provocative secretary (Chloe Sevigny), and finally Penny (Tilda Swanson), an angry woman living in a trailer park protected by bikers. He finally visits the grave of a fifth lover who died. Murray greets all of them with the same calculated inertia that becomes tiresome very quickly. Much time is spent by Jarmusch showing Don in his car, Don in airports, Don looking at maps, and Don just being Don.

    The only hint of aliveness comes when he runs after a young boy (Mark Webber), thinking he may be his long lost son. When he catches up with him, he buys him a sandwich and the boy of course asks him if he has any philosophical tips (what else would a boy ask a total stranger?) and Murray suggests that he should forget the past, not worry about the future, and live for the moment. Maybe he will take his own advice, maybe not, but by that time, I was way past caring. As much as I admire many films of both Bill Murray and Jim Jarmusch, Broken Flowers is a gimmicky star vehicle that holds nothing genuine in its grasp.

    GRADE: B-
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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