Coffee and Cigarettes (1986, 1992, 2003)

“Well, Nikola Tesla invented fluorescent light. Without him we wouldn’t have alternating current, radio, television… x-ray technology… induction motors, particle beams, lasers; none of that would even exist if it weren’t for him.”

‘Coffee and Cigarettes’, directed by Jim Jarmusch between 1986 and 2003, is an American anthology film featuring eleven vignettes in which characters smoke, drink coffee and reflect on life. The film features short sequences, two made in the 1980s, one in the 1990s and the rest in the 2000s and feature actors, comedians and musicians. The original film stars Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright talking about the effects of caffeine, Jarmusch focusing on each participants shaking hands as they light cigarettes. One later film stars Jack and Meg White of the band The White Stripes as Jack tries to show off his new Tesla coil to his indifferent band mate. Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina appear in one, Coogan playing a comic version of himself that anticipates the films and television of Michael Winterbottom. Each vignette appears to be random and unconnected other than the setting and props, but dialogue and themes echo through them, relationships between characters are repeated and Jarmusch manages, despite the length of time between the short films, to convey a unity between them. It’s starkly short in black-and-white, generally understated performances and limited action, allowing the viewer to focus clearly on the dialogue. The whole film walks a tightrope between profundity and pastiche, and you’re never sure if Jarmusch has something to say, or he’s saying things in a way that makes them sound important.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s low-key and dour, but at times it’s extremely funny. There’s also something strangely satisfying watching the conversations taking place in such a stripped-down setting. Watch in a double (quadruple?) bill with the ‘Before’ films.

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