I was upset to write a bad review on One-Way to Tomorrow’s indie claim. So, this time I felt like posting about an independent film that I like. Also, it is considered as one of the greatest American indies.
Stranger Than Paradise is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, one of my favorite names in American independent cinema. He usually employs a witty tone, an alien-like perspective, and an amusing absurdity. Needless to say, this film is shot on a very low budget.
The story follows Willie (John Lurie), his cousin Eva (Eszter Balint), and his buddy Eddie (Richard Edson) in New York, to Cleveland, and then Florida suburbs. Eva arrives in New York and stays with Willie for ten days before moving to Cleveland to live with her aunt. Eva is, for sure, an unwanted guest in Willie’s tiny apartment, but Willie is not a desirable host either.
Willie was born in Hungary but has been living in New York for a decade. He has lost his accent, watches football, and eats TV dinner. He is an immigrant who denies his heritage and is as American as any American. Even his best friend doesn’t know that he is from Hungary. His costume with overalls and a hat, and his desire to be thoroughly American makes him a memorable character.
On the other hand, Eva has just arrived in America from Budapest and doesn’t get why their roots should be thrown out the window. Her character makes Willie seem even more insane. She is unimpressed, usually emotionless, and doesn’t feel the need to be flexible or adjust to the “American way” of things.
Perhaps because Willie spent ten years in New York and Eva spent just ten days, the two have very different approaches to what it means to move to America. Whereas Willie is willingly assimilated in the culture, Eva seems to be chill about her upbringing and doesn’t feel like tossing them away. In contrast to Willie, who lies to fit in, she never holds herself back from telling her honest opinions. When Willie buys her a dress as a gift of affection, she doesn’t think twice before admitting: “I think it’s kind of ugly.”
Willie and Eddie are best buddies even though they don’t know where the other is from. The two share scenes without dialogues, where they sit together and drink beer without feeling the need to talk. These scenes, in my opinion, tell a lot more about a relationship than scenes with dialogues.
Stranger Than Paradise not only has great characters but also twisted versions of familiar scenes. For instance, the film projects an image of East Village with weirdly few people, as if it reflects New York in a parallel universe. Also, notice that the airport scene far from our classical rom-com airport chase. He takes his time; he has no rush to stop the plane.
The film is humorous, minimalist, and is considered a masterpiece. It also won the Caméra d’Or at Cannes Film Festival for the best first feature film. If you are interested in the building blocks of American indie cinema, Jim Jarmush is one name you should definitely add on your watchlist.