Unfortunately, I’d already heard that Isaach is a hitman. So when he has a quizzical conversation (opening with “You don’t speak Spanish, right?” “No.”) is given a matchbox with a coded message on it then flies to Madrid, I knew this was the first step in his assignment to kill someone. Then this happens again, and again, a train ride, and again and again, a guitar changes hands, and again and again before reaching his assignment. Along the way I forgot the comparisons I’d read (Dead Man, Le Samourai and Point Blank) and let my mind synch with the rhythm of the film, occasionally wondering if Isaach gets enough to eat or if he has taken a shower. The main interruption/alteration is the naked girl who lives with him for three days, even sleeping at his side while he remains fully clothed. Her presence (and subsequent death and imagined reappearance), the repetition of story elements, the paintings and music, black helicopters and abductions, the foreboding background score (by Boris) and the continual spoken and written phrases about life being meaningless began to build until, during a flamenco dancing scene, I wondered if this all wasn’t some kind of Lynchian nightmare. Maybe it’s Dead Man taken a step further; Isaach is dead, having some kind of hallucination (peyote is mentioned in dialogue), reliving the day-to-day life of his profession and of Jarmusch’s profession: the broken flowers on the street, pigeons on the rooftop. But then he reaches the end of his journey, finds a powerful American in a bunker, gets himself inside (the movie’s biggest joke: after all that workaday buildup it doesn’t show us how he gets inside – “I used my imagination”), strangles him, escapes, changes out of the suit and re-enters the world.
The other day I thought about telling Katy that Jarmusch is a feminist in order to get her to watch the movie with me, but I couldn’t come up with any evidence for that… in fact, all I could think of was evidence against. The only woman in Dead Man is a dead prostitute… the only one in Ghost Dog is a troublesome slut who indirectly causes the hero’s death… and I think the title of Broken Flowers refers to Murray’s damaged ex-girlfriends, who get progressively more depressing as the movie progresses. So I thought about that during this movie, figuring the very presence of Tilda Swinton should change things, but then there’s the nude girl, and Tilda is cool but gets kidnapped, which leaves the driver and a bunch of men.
A day later I’m more forgiving. It’s hard to fault any movie for artistic indulgence when you’re thrilling to the latest Takashi Miike mind-fuck. The civilized, art-loving europeans vs. shadowy, violent americans plot isn’t subtle but the movie is also too pleasurable to write off.
Isaach De Bankolé is a wonder to behold. The guy is an obvious movie star, and watching his impassive face for two hours is no problem at all. I admit I was excited that the ice cream man in Ghost Dog is starring in a film, but he was better in this role than I could’ve imagined. Black guy speaking French at an airport in the first scene was Alex Descas, a Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas regular. Girl on the train was Youki Kudoh, one of the Japanese leads in Mystery Train. Everyone else I was either already familiar with (white-wigged Tilda, foul-mouthed Bill Murray, guitar bearer John Hurt, guitar appreciator and inexpert spy Gael Garcia Bernal) or I’ve at least seen before and don’t recognize, like the naked girl was in Cider House Rules a decade ago but nobody can be expected to remember that.
When Isaach is given a new assignment, he’ll go to the art museum and study an appropriate painting. So the instruction “wait for the violin” had him studying a painting featuring a violin, etc. At the end he’s given a black piece of paper and no instructions so he visits the museum and studies an artwork featuring a large white sheet, maybe to clear his mind and ease himself out of his mission.
Kaurismäki’s La vie de bohème is pointedly mentioned. Anything in this movie that is mentioned is done so pointedly. I misunderstood the constant pointed warning “he who tries to be bigger than all the others should go to the cemetery to understand a little bit better what life is: a handful of dust” to be directed at Isaach, but they were talking about Murray