Ghost of Romero stalks Cannes opener

Jarmusch acknowledges the influence of the master

by Richard Mowe

Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton and Selena Gomez at The Dead Don't Die press conference
Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton and Selena Gomez at The Dead Don't Die press conference Photo: Richard Mowe

The spirit of the cult director George A Romero loomed large over the creation of Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, which premiered last night in Competition as the opening film at this year’s 72nd Cannes Film Festival.

Director Jim Jarmusch admitted at his media encounter that Romero’s gruesome and satirical horror films about an imagined zombie apocalypse, were a useful guide.

He said: “I very much look up to him and put a lot of references in our film to his films. I think the zombies as metaphor is so laden. Some of the things I read about our film are quite honestly things that had not occurred to me. So I think the metaphor is stronger than I was aware of.

Jim Jarmusch: 'My heart is with the young people who want to change things'
Jim Jarmusch: 'My heart is with the young people who want to change things' Photo: Richard Mowe
“I wanted to avoid making too much of a splatter film, which is also why I wanted the zombies to be desiccated and to be dried-up dust. Otherwise the film would really have been a bloodbath. I think of this as a horror comedy, but as for the balance of it I am not the best person to understand that yet.”

Actress Tilda Swinton recalled that Jarmusch had evoked the idea of the film while she was working with him on Only Lovers Left Alive, a vampirish supernatural comedy made in 2013.

“Zombies were even mentioned in that film and I remember thinking at the time that I bet Jim cannot resist making a zombie film next,” said Swinton. “And he did say to me shortly after that, ‘We’re going to make a zombie movie, what do you think?’ which was way before we got a script. I did read the script first unlike Bill Murray’s character but the script is one thing and the film is another and there are always surprises. Most of us all saw the film for the first time last night. We were agog.”

Jarmusch remembered that Night Of The Living Dead was the first Romero film he saw. “Subsequently, I have seen most of his work. Growing up, I saw the first Universal Studios monster movies which made a big impression, especially Dracula. Actually I am more of a fan of vampires than zombies. I admire many horror film directors such as Sam Raimi and John Carpenter, but horror is not my main area of expertise.

“Romero's extremely important because he really changed the idea of zombies and monsters too. Monsters in films like Godzilla come from outside the social structure and they are menacing from outside. With Romero, they are within the social structure and they are also victims as well. I must also include some European directors as influences, such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento and last night at dinner I got to meet for the first time Carpenter and Argento.”

Chloë Sevigny at the conference
Chloë Sevigny at the conference Photo: Richard Mowe
The film’s underlying themes touch on such matters as the ecological crisis which Jarmusch believes is not a political issue. “Defining it as such is very confusing and perplexing. Politics do not save anything and it is a kind of distraction. It is controlled by corporate politics and that, for me, is the problem. People have the answer in their own hands and if they decide to boycott a certain corporation because they do not like their activities then they could take them down. We have the possibility to do these things.

“My heart is with the young people who want to change things. My hope lies with people who live outside the social order which is decaying. I have a lot of time for teenagers and the way they define our clothes, our style, our music, and lots of other cultural things. Yet teenagers are treated quite badly mostly, and told to grow up. I am with the teenagers.”

Chloë Sevigny volunteered that when she saw The Exorcist as a child she was “terrified". She added: “I went to see my priest because I was raised a Catholic. I explained my fears to him. He said ‘yes it is all true and it always happens to young girls. Do not play Ouija or dabble with witchcraft because you are inviting the devil in to your soul.”

Selena Gomez, who helped to produce the film, cited the monster that is social media in her comments. She said: “I would say for my generation, specifically, social media has really been terrible. It does scare me when you see how exposed these young boys and young girls are. They are not aware of the news. I think it’s dangerous for sure. I don’t think people are getting the right information sometimes.”

Bill Murray on Jim Jarmusch: 'He does not need my help with the balance of humour - we just work on posture and manners'
Bill Murray on Jim Jarmusch: 'He does not need my help with the balance of humour - we just work on posture and manners' Photo: Richard Mowe
She admitted that she was obsessed with horror films from a young age when her father used to allow her to watch them. “I would be so scared and he would get to laugh,” she added.

Bill Murray, whose deadpan delivery is one of the film’s treasures, noted that Jarmusch needed no help from him in creating a sense of humour.

He said: “He is a barrel of laughs. He does not need my help with the balance of humour - we just work on posture and manners.It is a delight to be on the job. Making movies is a dangerous business and every day you go to work you have to remember that someone could be injured. Every single day could be the final day of shooting, and you try to treat it that way. You want to be one less burden for the director.”

Swinton used the occasion to pinpoint the plight of female directors, despite the fact that the Festival has made strenuous efforts towards gender parity and the late French icon Agnès Varda is omnipresent over the festival and on the poster.

She said: “Remember that women have been making films for 11 decades now. There are countless films by women out there. The question is why do we not know about them. A great master like Kira Muratova [Ukrainian award-winning film director, screenwriter and actress] who died recently received tiny obituaries in most national newspapers whereas if a male director dies he will get much more attention.

“We have women filmmakers but some work in bars or whatever to make ends meet because many cannot get in to the film schools.We have to sort that out and make sure that we buy tickets to see films by women. It all exists but really we need to pay attention to it and bring it up.”

The Dead Don't Die will be released in the US on June 14 and the UK on July 12

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