Cannes 2019 opener, The Dead Don’t Die, is nothing to die for
It was strange to see the world’s premier movie festival at Cannes open on Tuesday with a zombie adventure, Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die. Partly horror, in fact, blood curdling, and partly comical with actors like Bill Murray in their trademark deadpan expressions, the opening shot certainly failed to enliven an evening that was being threatened by dark clouds.
The Dead Don’t Die was as ominous as the evening despite a host of world celebrities — from Iran’s rebel actor Golshifteh Farahani, and others like Adam Driver, Selena Gomez, Tilda Swinton and Chloe Sevigny — in their best costumes trying hard to enrich the start of a festival that had lived through 71 years of some of the most turbulent times of the 1900s and part of the present 2000.
Jarmusch’s creation was disappointing on many counts, and if it was political — as the head of Cannes, Thierry Fremaux, had told a media conference here on Monday - this seemed more like in the passing. Fremaux had said that the film had “ties to President Donald Trump...It is a very anti-Trump movie. It talks about American hegemony. America is an extraordinary country. With Jarmusch, we can expect that he is not very happy with what is happening at present”.
But after watching the movie, I felt that Fremaux had overstated this angle. The film’s most overt political message came with a red hat worn by Steve Buscemi’s character: Instead of Make America Great Again, it read Keep America White Again.
Obviously, The Dead Don’t Die did not get the crowd on a high, and a muted ovation at the end told it all. In a script written by Jarmusch, the movie focusses on a fictional American town called Centerville, which suddenly begins to experience the strangest of happenings. The sun does not set, the moon hangs too low and as the earth slips off its axis, the graveyards come alive with the dead rising and walking about the town. Not just this, they pounce on men and women and in a vampire-like horror begin to suck blood and eat flesh.
These strange goings on get the town’s three cops - Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) - on their toes. Helping them in their mission is Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who behaves like a Japanese Samurai, and uses her huge sword to chop off the heads of these monstrous zombies. This is the only way that they can be silenced.
As the town begins to grapple with this ghostly invasion which threatens to wipe Centerville off the map - and with reports coming in of more such disasters in other parts of the world, it seems like the end of civilisation. The cops are absolutely clueless as how to handle this supernatural happening, and Robertson has never seen anything of this kind in all his long career. And in his usual bumbling manner, he tries to knock the zombies out.
The Dead Don’t Die tries hard to be witty of the quiet sort of way which Murray is good at, but it lacks punch and energy. There is not enough meat to drive the script, which often looks as deadpan as Murray himself. Hardly the kind of opener one would expect from an A-lister festival like Cannes. But let us hope the 12-day event would pep up in the days to come; after all there are masters waiting to showcase their cinema.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered Cannes close to three decades.)
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