Stranger than Paradise (1984)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson
My Rating: 10/10
Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise is as indie as they come. You don’t get films much more indie in both style, feel and the way they were made than this one. It’s a very simple, uncomplicated and straight film, that could very easily have been shot with little to no money at all. If I become a filmmaker, I would like to make films like this. For me, seeing a film as special as Stranger than Paradise, one that resonates as clearly and feels so perfect, is just incredibly rare. I only saw it two days ago, but since then I have fallen in love with it. It is one of the few movies that I see no faults in, and consider to be absolutely flawless.
It is split into three acts. It starts with a young man who is inconvenienced by the arrival of his Hungarian cousin for a short visit. She stays for a few days, then leaves. Then a year later, the young man and his friend meet the woman again, and the two drive to Florida with money won in a poker game, only to lose it. Then something unexpected happens that I will not spoil, and the film shortly ends.
The film’s actors aren’t brilliant, but they don’t have to be. There is very little said in this movie, and most of the actors faces remain expressionless. There’s nothing to laugh or cry about… there’s just life. And they communicate that perfectly. As they are pushed into situations that look strange but seem normal, they just act as they usually would. They are people, and nothing more.
Some might think this would be a problem, as it would make connecting with the characters harder, but au contraire: I felt a strong connection with all three of them, as they continue on their journey, letting life come to them rather than vice versa. They are humans content to just exist, and I admire that. There’s no pretention or artsy feel to the way they act; they aren’t nihilists or pessimists, they’re themselves. They are you and me, with perhaps a little less charisma or chattiness.
Jarmusch’s direction is typical of that of a first-time indie filmmaker, but yet, it does seem to resonate. He films each scene in one shot, and seperates all the shots by a period of dark black screen. This is an approach I’m familiar with, as Michael Haneke would do the exact same thing for his 2000 film Code Unknown, but in Stranger than Paradise it really sticks. It feels just right for the film. The pacing is slow, but that’s just because the characters are too. There are no big plot twists, and editing for Jarmusch consisted simply of putting the shots in the right order.
Stranger than Paradise is, make no mistake, a masterpiece. It is also a marvel of filmmaking. These days when so many directors are spending so much money to make their film’s look big and expensive, Jarmusch spends nothing. He just sets up his camera and lets it run. For a director to do nothing more than this is risky, but boy is it rewarding in this case. It absolutely works.
I was alone when I watched Stranger than Paradise, and when it cut to black for the final time, I did something I have only done once or twice, and never in anywhere but a theatre or crowded room: I applauded. I clapped loudly for Jarmusch, and proudly declared to an empty room that this is one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Ever. Stranger than Paradise gets a full, well-deserved ten out of ten from me, and I recommend it to everyone, of all ages. You might not love it as much as me, but this is the kind of film it is impossible to hate.