Jim Jarmusch: interview

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Jim Jarmusch has followed ‘Broken Flowers’ with an esoteric crime mystery set in Spain. The leftfield American filmmaker speaks to Dave Calhoun from his New York office

Just as it had title billing in ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’, so coffee has a starring role in Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Limits of Control’, which opens next week. Jarmusch regular Isaach de Bankolé (‘Ghost Dog’, ‘Night on Earth’) plays an unnamed, suited man who travels from Madrid to Seville to Almería, meeting various exaggerated lone characters (Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael García Bernal) and conversing mysteriously with them over two single espressos.

How are you?
‘I’m not quite awake, but I’m good. You?’

I’m a little more awake. With a cup of tea on hand.
‘I’m having mine now. PG Tips.’

It should be coffee with this film.
‘Yeah, but I don’t drink coffee, oddly enough. I’m a builder’s tea guy.’

It feels like you need to see ‘The Limits of Control’ twice to get it.
‘I think it works a little better when you’ve seen it a couple of times. But how do you ask people to do that? It’s hard enough to get them to see it once.’

It’s more experimental than 'Broken Flowers'.
‘I wanted to write the film as we shot it. I started with a 25-page story and was writing the dialogue as we went along.’

Why did you choose Spain?
‘It’s sort of mysterious because I could have made a similar film in Turkey or Mexico or Japan, you know? I don’t know why Spain kept calling. One odd thing is that the house in which we film at the end, in the south of Spain, where the Bill Murray character is, was near where Joe Strummer and his wife had a house. After Joe died, she gave me a photo and told me that every time they drove by it, Joe said: “We’ve got to tell Jim, he’s going to shoot this house someday.” ’

How did Isaach de Bankolé respond to playing such an inscrutable guy? Did he need much explanation?
‘Not so much explanation, more discussion of how this guy moves, how he is centred, how verbal or non-verbal he is. The thing about Isaach getting angry about wanting two espressos was something that happened when I was with him about 15 years ago. He got very angry when the guy brought him a double when he was very specific about having two separate espressos. I found it amusing that he blew up at the guy.’

Was he amused that you threw that experience back at him?
‘He was! He was laughing. Also, ten years ago, Isaach and I were going to a premiere and he had this iridescent suit on, and I was like: Oh man, you look so cool like that. That stuck in my head.’

Did you create the look of the character with each actor?
‘I love playing with wigs and disguises with Tilda Swinton. Gael García Bernal was pretty exaggerated: he was wearing a wig and tattoos. He wanted to look like a hallucinating Mexican desert rat.’

Shooting in Europe, did you have European filmmakers on your mind?
‘No, I don’t think so, I don’t really think that way. The style just emerges. The only film I looked at stylistically with Chris Doyle, the cinematographer, was “Point Blank” (1967), John Boorman’s film – an American film and very much a Los Angeles film.’

Antonioni’s ‘The Passenger’ comes to mind too, for the Spanish setting and the lone, mysterious traveller.
‘It’s funny because I didn’t look at that film again or think about it until after we made the film, then it came flooding back to me. I still haven’t seen it again, but there was some part of it speaking to me subconsciously. It was buried pretty deep in there.’

There’s a similarity of mood between the two films.
‘I think of “The Passenger” too when, especially in the States, people have expectations that this film doesn’t satisfy. In a way, we were trying to make an action film with no action in it. So I was thinking: Wow, what would happen if “The Passenger” was released now? Would people just turn away and say: "Oh come on, this isn’t what we expected." I don’t know.’

You were aware some people would find this film tough going?
‘I was aware of that. I wasn’t thinking about it very much as I try not to think about how the film’s going to be received except by those of us making it. I don’t know, lately American films, at least the ones that get released, seem so formulaic. Maybe it was a reaction to that. We were trying to celebrate the artifice of cinema. We weren’t thinking about how it would be received.’

Maybe that you’re American makes it seem more obscure than it is.
‘I remember when I was cutting my film “Dead Man”, I joked with the editor that we were going to get a Variety review that said “Box Office Funeral for ‘Dead Man’ ”. We were aware these things weren’t designed to be mainstream specifically. We’re not naive.’

The Limits of Control’ opens in cinemas on Dec 11.

Author: Interview: Dave Calhoun



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