By Mónica Delgado
Some years ago, Jim Jarmusch had the privilege, or the fortune to premiere two films in Cannes: Paterson and Gimme Danger, the documentary on The Stooges. This time, not so far away from this past fortune, he also has two precise moments in the French screen, but with the same work: the organization chose his recent comedy about zombies to open this 72th edition of Cannes Film Festival, and also, simultaneously, premiered the film in France to the general audience. Jarmusch is indeed admired in France.
But beyond this love in Cannes for Jarmusch’s work, the fact that the festival chose a film this fresh –and quite of a comercial profile- as a zombie comedy for its inauguration gala, leaves quite a hope for the festival to want to “chill out” a bit in contrast to the vast quantity of “edifying” films that were present in past edition. Usually films like this, are programmed in midnight sessions or parallel sections, and in in this context, the decision to escape formality, collaborated with an unexpected cinephile satisfaction.
In The dead don’t die, the American filmmaker poses from the beginning a precise game that reminds us of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, since Bill Murray and Adam Driver, two policemen from a small town called Centerville, with over 700 inhabitants, name him several times as the filmmaker that guides their destinies. There’s not only a metatextual resource that becomes evident in the beginning when the two character mention the song in the credits, or in somewhere at the end when they remark that they don’t know what to say or do because they didn’t read the Jarmusch script very well. So, they assume that they are characters and that are being handled by an author. But these few references to the story inside the story or the breaking of the fourth wall in the film in a creative way are not out of tune with the focus of the film: the earth suffers a change in its rotation that make the dead folk wake up. This cause, new in zombie stories, allows the ironic and absurd tone in a story that locates itself very well between the black comedies of the subgenre.
As it happens in some Romero’s films, thinking of Dawn of the dead (1978), the social and political allegory peeks out, not only through this town that barely has a motel, a restaurant, a Police Station and a small minor reformatory, but also in hand with this consumer zombies that come back from the dead to dream about with whatever made them happy in life, zombies that clamor for objects of consumption of a happy capitalism. This town, seemingly uncontaminated by the obstacles produced by the excessive consumption and commerce, is invaded by these zombies that remind them of a world of mobile phones, luxury clothing and fashionable toys. This healthy life is even perverted for an eldery man, an hermit portrayed by Tom Waits, who becomes the narrator and witness of the chaos in the film,.
In The dead don’t die; the most hated neighbour is the one using a “Make America Great Again” cap (Steve Buscemi), who lives tormenting the hermit, while Tilda Swinton is an eccentric handling a morgue who handles a sword cunningly. Selena Gomez also appears as part of a group of “hipsters” that arrive in town for a walk. And, like that, a number of characters appear, among them Iggy Pop and the filmmaker Sara Driver, playing zombies “dying” to drink coffee.
If maybe the parts dedicated to the reformatory don’t click well with the other moments or characters in the story, The dead don’t die is attractive as an homage and cinephile wink to dozens of other zombie flicks, but also as an elegy of the way of these old westerns where the sheriffs are entangled in a crossroad but sacrifice everything to save their honor. In moments one can perceive the Jarmuschian touch in the pop references and play with words that reminds us of the subtle style of humor of Down by Law, and in others, we become accomplices of the abilities of a filmmaker that keeps experimenting and making different things, without fear to approach a work with clear commercial ends. And an opening like that in Cannes is a great welcome for all.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Script: Jim Jarmusch
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Pérez, Iggy Pop, Sarah Driver, RZA, Selena Gomez, Carol Kane, Tom Waits, Austin Butler, Luka Sabbat, Sturgill Simpson, Alyssa Maria App, Sid O’Connell, Kevin McCormick, Justin Clarke, Vinnie Velez, Lorenzo Beronilla, Talha Khan, Mick Coleman
Production companies: Animal Kingdom
Distributed by Focus Features
USA, 2019, 103 mins