Title: Stranger Than Paradise
Country: USA, West Germany
Language: English, Hungarian
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Music: John Lurie
Cinematography: Tom DiCillo
Jim Jarmusch’s sophomore feature, STRANGE THAN PARADISE is a minimalist, cottage-industry, black-and-white film shot with a flyweight budget and is exclusively constituted by consecutive single long takes separated by screen blackouts.
A three-act story revolving around an Hungarian American young man Willie (Jazz musician John Lurie, also moonlighting as the composer with a jarring, counter-cultural backbeat), his cousin Eva (an 18-year-old debutante Eszter Balint), and Willie’s sidekick Eddie (Richard Edson, Sonic Youth’s original drummer from 1981-1982, imparts an endearing pusillanimity out of his beta-male resignation). Each act takes place in a different locus, but the keynote is unvarying. Part I “The New World” sets in New York, when Willie grudgingly hosts Eva, who has just arrived in the USA from Hungary for the first time, for a ten-day stint in his mangy bedsit before joining aunt Lotte (Stark) in Cleveland.
Proscribing Eva to speak Hungarian and exhorts her to adopt the American life as we know it then, watching baseball on television, eating pre-cooked “TV dinner”, buying her a bilious dress to supersede her trousers, Willie epitomizes those listless deadbeats who repudiates their provenances and aspire for achieving their American dream through the low road and fast lane, he and Eddie are card sharps and gamblers, even hoity-toity enough to belittle a man who works in a factory. By comparison, Eva, the greenhorn in the land of hope and freedom, finds her assimilation process frustrating, and Balint possesses an unrelentingly benumbed reaction that can be masked as the coolth of nihilism, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is her kind of man, “I PUT A SPELL ON YOU” is the recurring theme song.
In the second act “One Year Later”, Willie and Eddie drive to Cleveland to see Eva, but their throbbing anticipation of a new place is soon bogged down in the same acedia under its wintry climate, Eva is stuck in a menial job and constantly argues with aunt Lotte, on their way back to New York, Willie suggests they should fetch Eva and go to Florida instead, there comes the final chapter “Paradise”, but after losing their savings (earned from cheating in card games) in a dog race, they are mired in a nondescript motel, nowhere near the sunny beach, when Willie and Eddie are outside on their gambling spree, Eva is habitually left alone in the motel room, cussing the holiday that never happens. Finally, a windfall inadvertently prompts the trio to embark three different routes, mischievously, two go back to where they come from, one wanders alone in the disillusioning land, Jarmusch’s discernment of the falsehood of American dream is never sharper and STRANGER THAN PARADISE flags up his sui generis aesthetics and subjective inclination towards those characters hopelessly dwelling on the margin of the society.