The film’s succession of cryptic encounters – involving Isaach de Bankolé as a steely, Melvillian lone gunman on a ‘mission’ in Spain – feel more like painstakingly sculpted stanzas of a poem than they do twists in some contrived yarn. Certainly, some will find Jarmusch’s convention-bending games a little testing, but in craftily withholding so much information about where we’re headed (or, indeed, where we’ve come from), he forces us to work harder to find meaning in the film’s ambiguities. Why does De Bankolé keep visiting that gallery? Why does he always order two single espressos? What do the absurd outpourings of the supporting players – a white-haired Tilda Swinton musing on films and dreams, a scraggy John Hurt discussing the derivation of the term ‘bohemian’, etc – actually mean?
Jarmusch takes great pleasure in daring us to suppress our expectations of where pulp genre films are supposed to take us and the emotional cues they’re supposed to house. Being black, celibate and monosyllabic, De Bankolé’s criminal operative inverts all the usual trappings of the traditional screen gangster, and once you apply that rule to everything within the film’s exotic, strangely logical world (beautifully photographed by Chris Doyle), then its point will become clear.