Time Out caught up with director Jim Jarmusch to discuss his latest movie and try to unravel the enigma
Time Out Bahrain staff
Jim Jarmusch doesn’t like to analyse his own films. ‘It’s like asking where air comes from,’ the 56-year-old director bemoans. It’s not exactly a dream response, but as he is the enigmatic darling of indie cinema after all, what can we expect? And if anyone can be blunt and verbose at the same time, it’s Jarmusch. Grey since the age of 15 and sporting a shock of white hair, the tall, angular director is in a talkative mood.
A lifelong love of the outsider, the long pause, and dialogue so deadpan it could flatten Nepal, he also demonstrates a wry sense of humour. ‘My movies are stories, they are narrative films, although sometimes the critics don’t find any story,’ he observes – criticism not so much rolling off his back as withering under a raised eyebrow. He only reads the bad reviews, he confesses: ‘I like the really bad ones, because it’s more interesting to see why somebody hates what I did.’
A brief rundown of his filmography reveals an eclectic collection of postmodern Westerns (Dead Man), hip-hop assassins (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) and the 20-years-in-the-making Coffee and Cigarettes: a series of short vignettes featuring actors and musicians discussing life while sipping and smoking on the aforementioned. Each one, however, has a theme that prevails throughout, hailing from the style of directing. ‘When I’m shooting scenes, all I think is about that scene. I try to erase everything but that moment. I don’t know why they are slow. I love slow. I talk slow. I think slow. I like slow music.’
His scenes may be slow, but Jarmusch sets film fans’ pulses racing. Why? Because he’s old school. He studied with the likes of Spike Lee and got his break working alongside legendary directors Nicholas Ray (his teacher at the time) and Wim Wenders. He even used his scholarship funds to pay for his first feature, Permanent Vacation. Jarmusch puts the independent into indie.
‘I don’t want the money to tell me how to make films,’ he espouses. ‘I don’t want some person who used to run some factory telling me how I should place the camera or who I should cast. I’m very stubborn about that. I work with people who are great and who I choose.’ Indeed, this idea of power is the subject of his latest film, Limits of Control. An enigmatic, globe-trotting, polyglot of a hitman movie, it follows the story of the mysterious Lone Man (Isaach De Bankolé), a blank stare of an assassin whose inscrutable face and determined gait drive the ‘narrative’ along.
The film is a series of meetings, and along the way he meets a peculiar array of characters with equally prescriptive names. Jim Jarmusch isn’t a man to waste time on nomenclature. Forget the man with no name, this is the cast with no name, and before long you’ve been introduced to American (Bill Murray), Mexican (Gael Garcia Bernal), Blonde (Tilda Swinton) and Nude (Paz de la Huerta) – guess what she does.
References to decadent French poet Arthur Rimbaud, endless shots of Bankolé’s imperious cheekbones, a lot of flamenco music and some stunning cinematography occupy the bulk of the screen time. It is a typically oblique and beautiful slice of Jarmuschian filmmaking, and continues a theme evident in his recent works: language.
The dialogue features everything from English, Spanish and French Creole to Japanese and even Arabic. It skips between them as freely as it does characters. But why? ‘Languages are not to me the most essential way to communicate,’ he says. ‘I know some people that have been in love with someone that didn’t speak the same language. I love to listen to people that speak in a language that I don’t understand. It’s like music. It is interesting to try to imagine what they are talking about.’ Jarmusch is a man who appreciates the attraction of the enigmatic. He famously started ‘The Sons of Lee Marvin’, a semi-secret society, including such luminaries as Tom Waits and Iggy Pop.
The only proviso being that its members must plausibly resemble the offspring of actor Lee Marvin. He also has a sense of humour, but does he know how to let go? ‘I’m doing Thai chi at the moment, that’s physical and meditative at the same time. It’s like moving meditation. And then, when I’m done, I smoke a few cigarettes,’ he says with a smile.Let it be known: Jim Jarmusch is a man in control, at least after a good smoke, that is. Limits of Control is released in cinemas on this month.