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Broken Flowers

June 9, 2017

Broken Flowers (2005)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Actors: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Jessica Lange

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Synopsis: Don Johnston (Bill Murray), a prematurely retired, fiftysomething man, has just been dumped by his girlfriend. He receives an anonymous letter from an old flame, informing him he has a teenage son. With the help of a friendly neighbour, Johnston sets out on a trip across the States to scope out the likely candidates to have sent this letter.

Review: The first time I saw Broken Flowers, I was a little underwhelmed by the perpetual deadpan approach to its conceit. It seemed to smack of two things: smugness over how funny it thought it was, and a lack of confidence in genuinely engaging with the multitude of emotional truisms thrown up throughout the story.

On a second viewing, I’m inclined to be much more sympathetic to the workings of writer-director Jim Jarmusch and the very man whose iconography is so central to the story – Bill Murray. The distancing air affected by Jarmusch is neither conceit nor coldness, but more an exercise in holding the rhetoric back and allowing the very swirl of emotion and character to manifest around the stunned features of Murray. Indeed, the film’s very oxymoronic title, “Broken Flowers”, acts as a metaphor for the anti-epiphanies that exploring your past can present.

As is usual with Jarmusch, it’s a formally arresting film. He makes great use of the otherwise utilitarian opening credits montage by having the key letter travel its way from the hands of the mysterious woman all the way to Don Johnston’s mailbox, scored to The Greenhornes’ exceptional “There is an End”. Another great scene is when Johnston is incredulously dumped by his French girlfriend either side of watching a TV show. The continuity of the humdrum TV programme subliminally communicating a gallows notion that life happens between watching episodes on TV.

I’d even go so far as to reclaim this as one of the best American films of the last decade or so. Jarmusch’s still-life, observational, but deceptively emotional, gaze is exceptionally clever. It is at once gothic, yet ethnographically very acute too, and Johnston’s odyssey to meet his lovers in the four corners of the States is one of the great cinematic road trips of recent times. (June 2017)

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