Broken Flowers writer-director Jim Jarmusch is bringing his brand of cinema to ‘zombie horror’ – well kinda. Like his first toe-dip into genre filmmaking, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Dead Don’t Die is a film with horror elements but which isn’t a “true” horror film; it would be more appropriate to call it Coffee, Cigarettes, and Zombies. Like his 2004 cult hit, Coffee & Cigarettes, it boasts a stellar cast and whip-smart dialogue. Where the black-and-white cult classic made the mundane act of chatting over coffee entertaining, the poet-turned-director’s new zombie comedy leans into the laughs by way of its characters’ deadpan approach to a zombie invasion.
We recently chatted with Jarmusch about Cannes – where Dead made its world premiere – as well as his love for Charlize Theron, and how Wonder Woman really didn’t do it for him. He also gave us some of his five favorite films, and like many subjects of this column, was quick to point out that the list could change depending on what day of the week it is.
Heaven Knows What is such a disturbing story about unrequited love, heroin addiction, and suicidal tendencies that somehow evades being only completely weighed down by desperation. Even though the death-like weight of the all-out junkie life is detailed and harrowing, it’s also a really interestingly made film in the way it’s shot – it’s bleak, yet somehow a fascinating and important addition for me to recent American filmmaking. And the central character played by Arielle Holmes who also wrote the script and lived the life, and she plays a very riveting and detailed character. Coupled with a great performance from Caleb Landry Jones, who also, appears in our film, among several other actors. Did you see that one?
Female Trouble, 1974. John Waters. And this may be my very favorite John Waters film. Divine is hilariously divine, and the other actors include fabulous Waters favorite, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, and an old friend of mine, the always iconic, Cookie Mueller, who we lost quite a while ago. But as time goes by, for me, John Waters becomes more and more important as his work echoes through our culture. What is so particular and striking for me about John Waters is that no matter how perverse and weird his themes and characters may be, his films are never ever mean spirited. There’s some kind of naked celebration of human nature and its ridiculousness. And John Waters is such an uplifting and remarkable person. I mean where would we be without him?
Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: Just out of curiosity why’d you want to go back to genre?
Jim Jarmusch: Well, I don’t even think of it really is a horror film exactly. I think of it as a comedy with some dark threads in it. I’m not real analytical. I wanted to make the first idea of it. I wanted to make a film with humor similar to a film we made years ago called Coffee and Cigarettes. It felt like the same job.
That’s funny because here we call it Coffee, Cigarettes, and Zombies.
Jarmusch: I mean that’s sort of the impetus for the whole thing so honestly that’s good to hear.
Tell us about the premiere at Cannes.
Jarmusch: It was pretty weird, to be honest. It’s like showing our film to some film people, but also like 1,500 executives from L’Oréal. It’s kind of strange. But that’s part of Cannes. Cannes is more and more each year kind of like a convention. I wasn’t in favor of it being the opening night film, but the people who financed it, and my producers, I sort of let them all vote, and said, “I will defer to what you guys all think.” I kind of think they wanted it because they could get our cast on the red carpet. But other than that I don’t know the motives. It was interesting. I don’t want to just totally dis it. It was weird for me though, I must say. But I was also happy to be there together with members of the cast and Fred Elmes, our DP, and Catherine George, our costume designer. So you know, it was a positive thing on some level. [Laughs] I guess.
But that standing ovation was pretty great.
Jarmusch: Yeah, it was so fun. For me, the best things I love about Cannes are… I like the press conferences when you have your collaborators there and I don’t know that was kind of fun. And Bill Murray during the photo call was hilarious and amazing.
The Dead Don’t Die opens in select theaters on June 14th.