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Jim Jarmusch has an Indian project up his sleeve

American director Jim Jarmusch seems conpletely in love with Indian cinema. Works by Satyajit Ray, Imamura, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Bresson and Dreyer captivated him, laying his foundation for a career in the fantastic art form.

entertainment Updated: Dec 11, 2009 15:47 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran

Some of the master classes held here during the ongoing Marrakech International Film Festival have been masterly. American director Jim Jarmusch’s certainly was. And he began his session the other afternoon in an auditorium packed to its brim with prophetic words. “Life is a series of moments that never come back”. Is that why, he never plans? I have no idea, but his approach to movie making has been unique in some ways. He said he rehearsed with his actors, but never the scenes he was going to shoot. “Because I want my actors to react, not merely act”. His actors are very important, because he writes his scripts with the cast in mind. “At least the lead actors”, he explained to me during a later interview. While others usually write the script and then go around looking for actors to essay the characters in it, Jarmusch has A or B or C in mind before he begins a penning.

“Writing for me is seduction”, he averred. “Filming is sex, and editing is pregnancy. The child goes out into the open world”. The helmer never rewrites. His script is a one-time affair. “I do not understand how people keep writing and rewriting the same script”, he wondered. His confidence might have come from the grounding he had in cinema from his very early years.

Born to middleclass parents in Ohio, Jarmusch saw many movies when he was barely six or seven: his mother used to leave him at the local cinema while she ran errands, and Jim saw his first adult film, Thunder Road (1958), when he was barely seven and the brutal violence left an impression on the little boy. He saw many more movies there, but despite his enthusiasm for cinema, he was an avid reader. He once said that literature “shaped his metaphysical beliefs leading him to reconsider theology in his mid-teens”. However, films remained an integral part of his existence, and when he was a student in Paris, he saw literally the cinema of the world. Works by Satyajit Ray, Imamura, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Bresson and Dreyer captivated him, laying his foundation for a career in the fantastic art form.

He told me that his “interest in India is daunting because of the amount of cinema the country produces and at all levels. I like the low B movies as well. I have a project that involves Indian cinema. I do not want to talk much about it now, but I know that out there in India there is a huge garden full of flowers”.

But when he does come to India, he is bound to change many rules. One of them relates to music. “I hate mood music. I do not want music to tell audiences what to feel or do. I hate music that pushes one towards laughing or crying or being happy or sad. Music should not become the cue”. Which is exactly what most Indian pictures do. Perhaps, this helps them to cover many of their shortcomings, including performances.

I am pretty sure that given Jarmusch’s proclivity, he is bound to make a very different kind of film that could be absolutely new to Indians. His first major work, Stranger Than Paradise (1984), was critically acclaimed and won the Camera d’Or at Cannes. A comedy of three disillusioned young men as they travel from New York to Florida, the movie broke “many Hollywood conventions of film-making”. His next two films experimented with parallel narratives: Mystery Train (1989) told three stories that take place on the same night in Memphis; and Night on Earth (1991) spoke about five cab drivers, their passengers and their rides that begin at sunset in Los Angeles and end at dawn in Helsinki.

Jarmusch’s last two movies were widely different. “Broken Flowers” (2005) is a bitter-sweet treat about an ageing lothario, Don Johnston (played brilliantly by Bill Murray). When he receives a mysterious letter one day stating that he has a 19-year-old son, our pal takes off to find the mother. Retracing his life, he goes to each of his former flames, portrayed by Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Tilda Swinton. A delightful deadpan Murray carries the work literally on his shoulders.

The Limits of Control (2009) is about a lone criminal on an assignment in Spain, and it was not as well received as Broken Flowers, probably implying that audiences, living as they were in a world of violence, were not inclined to seeing more of it on screen.

However, Jarmusch is not the man to care about the box-office, I would suppose. He has remained genuinely independent, and Stanger Than Paradise practically invented this term in the 1980s. He had once said in a famous quote: "I don't do things for money. I mean, I do if I have to get a job and pay the rent. But that's not why I'm alive. That's not what I live for. I'm not interested. That's why Hollywood doesn't lure me. All they can promise you is fame and money. I don't want those things. I don't give a shit about them – so why would I go there then and give up my soul? Other people can do that." That is Jim Jarmusch for you, and he still lives by the same rule.

Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Marrakech International Film Festival for several years.