By Michael Kalafatis (Stoke on Trent)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Starring John Lurie, Eszter Balint and Richard Edson. Willie a self-proclaimed hipster who lives in New York City is visited by his cousin Eva who comes from Hungary and stays with him for ten days until she eventually moves to Cleveland. Stranger Than Paradise revolves around the relationship between this two characters and Edie a friend of Willie, the film is mostly about the tension between the two cousins and the way they bond as the film progresses.
Stranger Than Paradise is divided into three chapters each chapter takes place at a different geographical location. The first chapter takes place in New York, the second in Cleveland and the last in Florida a chapter that is ironically named “Paradise” a more suitable name would have been “Gehena” because it is the point in the narrative when everything starts to go downhill. Jarmusch all throughout the film uses uninterrupted scenes that fade out to black, this idea fits with the deadpan characters of the film who do not get easily excited about anything, they just really like to sit down aimlessly watching what’s on the TV or smoke cigarettes or both, but even though the plot is minimalistic the narrative does not seem to stagnate because of its stark black and white cinematography with the realism of Jarmusch’s screenplay which manage to make it seem like a documentary about living in New York, arranging on a whim road trips and just live an aimless existence.
Around two third the film becomes a road film, when Willie and Edie decide to pay Eva a visit in snow covered Cleveland and when afterwards they go Florida. The road movie element changes the pace of the film, it adds more rigour to the narrative and the characters seems to obtain a goal or have a purpose in their otherwise mundane existence.
The major theme of film is identity, it is inserted into the narrative in a very subtle way and is about Willie’s identity who moved from Hungary to New York ten years ago but he identify himself as an American he even force Eva to speak only English when she stays with him and in Cleveland he speaks with his Aunt in English even though she answers him only in Hungarian which is quiet amusing to watch as Willie manages to communicate with her fluently like they are talking the same language. That is the reason when Evan arrives at his apartment he is rude towards her and makes her feel unwelcome even though as the narratives progresses he starts to enjoy having her around and that is the reason he goes to visit her in Cleveland where she lives with their Aunt. Through Eva Willie manages to come closer to his family from Hungary which in the beginning of the film he felt he was not a part of, he also wants to create a bond with Eva showing that even though he considers himself an American he does not want to ignore his Hungarian roots and relatives.
Verdict: With the use of black and white cinematography, minimalistic plot and unknown actors Stranger Than Paradise should have been a very underwhelming independent film that no one expected it to make a dent into the independent cinema but it managed to put Jim Jarmusch on the forefront because of his realistic and deadpan depiction of very relatable situation and characters.