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Strange Paradise: The Cinema of Jim Jarmusch

Following the first major announcement of films for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, proceedings are underway and excitement is high for the major event. While that is not until September however, TIFF Bell Lightbox has plenty of offerings for cinephiles and film buffs, the latest of which features a director who showcased one of his finest films at last year’s festival.

Jim Jarmusch, the talented and longstanding director and screenwriter as well as champion of independent cinema will see his works featured in a new cinematheque retrospective: Strange Paradise. This showcase starts today and runs over the next few weeks, featuring a variety of the auteur’s works, from his earliest films to experimental art house work to later more mainstream successes.

You’re not going to go wrong with anything (and you can check out the full list at (tiff.net/jarmusch) , but here are some of the highlights of a director who has always had an eye for the hip, surreal, melancholic, and innovative.
Mystery Train – Tuesday, July 29, 9pm.

A most experimental film indeed, Jarmusch in this 1989 tale weaves a trio of interconnected stories that revolve around a cheap motel in Tennessee. These three episodes are watched by the audience as well as the desk clerk and his disenchanted bellhop, as we witness the activities of a young Japanese couple amid an America South tour, an newly widowed Italian woman heading home, and a trio of drunken losers (including Joe Strummer and Steve Buscemi) as they knock off a liquor store.

It’s a bizarre mix of tone, humour, and drama, but this three disparate stories work still work well together. They are told in sequence but set in the same time and place, and while that may not be the most novel set up at the moment, some 25 years ago Jarmusch was unconventional and intriguing.


Dead Man
– Saturday, August 9, 7pm. (with Skype introduction by Canadian actor Gary Farmer)

While Johnny Depp has indeed in the last 15 years become known for playing weird characters and donning outlandish costumes, in 1995’s Dead Man he plays it straight (to start), and it’s a bizarre world (the old frontier) in which he is led. He is ‘stupid white man’ William Blake, an accountant from Cleveland who travels west and discovers a mysterious and surreal environment of death and betrayal and one where he seems destined to die.

Depp isn’t the only noteworthy actor though, as this star-studded (and for Jarmusch, big-budget) film features Gary Farmer, Crispin Glover, Lance Henriksen, John Hurt, Iggy Pop, and Gabriel Byrne (music by Neil Young!) Jarmusch simultaneously embraces the western genre– there are gunslingers, prostitutes, mystic natives – while supplanting it with elements of poetry, ennui, and stunning black and white cinematography.

Dead Man

The Limits of Control
– Thursday, August 14, 8:30pm

This one is much more recent (2009), but probably one of the strangers ones in Jarmusch’s extensive collection. Shot over three days in Spain, The Limits of Control is bleak and quiet, mysterious and poetic. We don’t know who the protagonist is, or what his missions entails, but through his travels to a secure outpost in the desert, he encounters a slew of equally bizarre characters (Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Paz de La Huerta, among others). This layered film has both a story that itself is captivating and a powerful message and commentary on globalization that is provocative and unsettling.

Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers
– Sunday, August 10, 8:30pm

In one of his earlier turns towards subtle humour and reserved drama, Bill Murray is brilliant as Don Johnston, a man tracking down a 19-year-old son he suddenly was informed existed. Alongside a maybe unqualified detective named Winston (Jeffrey Wright), Don seeks out former lovers, all of whom bring him back into the past while forcing him to confront present and wonder about the future.

Certainly a more mainstream and palatable film from Jarmusch (for those who are less familiar), Broken Flowers has his signature dry wit and laconic tone while still having verve and laugh out loud humour. Also starring Tilda Swinton, Sharon Stone, and Jessica Lange, this film won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2005.

THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009) directed by Jim Jarmusch shown: Isaach De Bankole

Only Lovers Left Alive
– Saturday, August 16, 7pm.

His most recent and rightly celebrated piece of cinema follows immortal vampires Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as they cope with the inane, self-destructive nature of humans while navigating the desolate, quiet landscapes of run-down Detroit. These sexy, savvy lovers and atypical vampires (they travel, rock out, make love, and steal blood instead of sucking it) deal with a wild younger sister and toxic environments.

Aptly named Adam and Eve, the former feels stuck, so his beautiful wife (of a hundred years of so), travels from Tangier to once thriving Motor City, looking to rekindle their love, excitement, and tolerance for a world that is caught up within itself.

"only lovers left alive"

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.