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Broken Flowers (2005) October 30, 2005

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Jim Jarmusch was called the king of American independent cinema long before independent films became fashionable. In past decade he had to temporarily leave his crown to some younger filmmakers with repertoires more in touch mainstream audiences and more able to build hypes around their names. However, quality of mainstream Hollywood has recently has decreased so drastically that even those less “accessible” films look refreshing in comparison. As a result, Jim Jarmusch films now can expect to have audiences that otherwise wouldn’t touch independent films with ten foot pole. Jarmusch’s first film to benefit from this new phenomenon is BROKEN FLOWERS, 2005 drama that not only won Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival, but also turned out to be box-office success.

The protagonist of the film is Don Johnston (played by Bill Murray), semi-retired middle-aged computer businessman who has just been left by his much younger girlfriend Sherry (played by Julie Delpy). Don’s next-door neighbour and best friend is Winston (played by Jeffrey Wright), Ethiopian immigrant who could, like Don, belong to middle or upper class if not for having to support five children. Winston, nevertheless, appears to live much fuller and happier life than Don, which manifests in his great enthusiasm for Internet and crime mysteries. This is put to good use when Don receives anonymous letter, apparently sent by one of his numerous girlfriends, informing him about existence of 19-year old son he had never met. Winston quickly narrows potential letter-senders to four names – Laura Miller (played by Sharon Stone), Dora (played by Frances Conroy), Carmen (played by Jessica Lange) and Penny (played by Tilda Swinton) – and helps Don organise long trip during which he would visit all four of them and try to discover whether the letter was genuine or not.

Just like in most Jarmusch’s films, there is very little plot and the pace is glacial, often because of the scenes that don’t appear to have any apparent meaning. Thankfully, the choice of music is very good – just like the protagonist, the experience is going to be made bearable for audience through excellent jazz score by Mulatu Astatke. However, the greatest asset of the film is Bill Murray, who didn’t even had to put much effort in creating perfect character for this sort of film – lethargic, middle-aged former Don Juan is only a slight variation of Bob Harris from LOST IN TRANSLATION. There are few actors that can match Murray in ability to evoke so much empathy in audience by displaying so little emotions on screen. Despite being empty, self-centred and phlegmatic character, Murray’s Don Jonhston quickly wins audience and the dramatic effort is powerful when he, in the latter stages of film, displays something resembling emotion.

Murray’s excellent acting is well-matched by his colleagues – a large and very diverse cast that includes veterans like Stone, Lange and young newcomers like Alexia Dzina (who provides one of the most memorable scenes of the film) and Pell James. Unfortunately, some of the talents seem to be wasted because the characters they play aren’t fleshed enough – especially in the case of almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton. The worst mistake Jarmusch made was to have Jeffrey Wright played wonderful larger-than-life character who appears relatively briefly in the film and is sorely missed most of the time.

Another mistake is “clever” ending where Jarmusch tries to con audience into believing in some sort of conventional Hollywood finale only in order to provide another “artsy” plot twist. However, this ending is predictable in its unconventionality and it only leaves the bitter taste of disappointment in something that could have otherwise been a true masterpiece. BROKEN FLOWERS, however, deserves the audience because without films like these American and world cinema would never blossom.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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