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Jarmusch’s star-studded zombie parable kicks off Cannes

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72nd Cannes Film Festival – Photocall for the film ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ in competition – Cannes, France, May 15, 2019. Director Jim Jarmusch and cast members Selena Gomez and Tilda Swinton pose – Reuters


CANNES, France (Reuters): With a glamorous cast of flesh-eating undead including Iggy Pop, US filmmaker Jim Jarmusch kicked off Cannes’ cinema showcase with an acerbic swipe at American society – though the zombie romp lacked the bite some critics had hoped for.

The comedy marked the opening salvo of the Cannes Film Festival, where it will compete for the top Palme D’Or prize alongside the latest offerings from Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodovar and a clutch of movies by newcomer, young directors.

Set in a non-descript small town where the inhabitants start succumbing to a zombie apocalypse, “The Dead Don’t Die” pokes fun at hipsters, US politics and a materialistic, smartphone-addicted world all at once.

And climate change deniers don’t get away, either.

“Watching nature decline at unprecedented rates in history is, for me, terrifying,” Jarmusch, wearing his trademark dark glasses, told a news conference on Wednesday, after the film’s Tuesday evening premiere.

Bill Murray, a long-time collaborator of the “Broken Flowers” filmmaker, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny star as cops fighting off the growing army of undead, with pop star Selena Gomez and actress Tilda Swinton also among the stellar line-up.

A darling of US art house filmmaking and a Cannes veteran, Jarmusch nonetheless drew a mixed bag of reviews with some lamenting a sluggish pace despite some spot-on jokes.

Laden with witty film references – including nods to George Romero’s cult 1968 zombie-fest “Night Of The Living Dead” – the film also leans on self-aware ploys where actors discuss its plotline.

Some critics took issue with the more self-indulgent moments.

“Jarmusch’s movie is in danger of succumbing to a zombie-ism of its own: a narcotic torpor of self-aware coolness,” the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wrote, describing the film as a “droll if directionless riff.”

Others said Jarmusch had done little to refresh a much-exploited genre, even if gags like Iggy Pop’s coffee-guzzling zombie and a horde of undead stalking the streets in search of a Wi-Fi connection raised chuckles.

“The problem with the opening film at Cannes is that you expect something really special,” Marta Balaga, a critic at movie news agency Cineuropa, told Reuters. “People were laughing at moments and people wanted to love it.”

Asked alongside other cast members on Wednesday about his views on horror movies, Murray quipped: “I find Cannes frightening”.

With the undead clawing their way out of their graves when excess fracking causes the world to turn off kilter, “The Dead Don’t Die” needles climate change deniers, but also takes a swipe at an apathetic society unable to get its act together.

Its well-meaning cops display little by way of a game-plan throughout to combat the increasingly hairy zombie invasion.

Jarmusch said the film’s environmental message was not meant to be overly dark or lay the blame with politicians, however.

“Defining this as a political issue is very confusing and perplexing to me,” he said.

The film also hits out at US President Donald Trump at moments. Steve Buscemi – playing a character determined to keep trespassers at bay – dons a “Keep America White Again” cap, echoing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign motto.

This year’s Cannes movie selection was described by festival organisers as both “political and romantic”.

On Tuesday, Cannes jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of Mexico – the first Latin American film director to head up the panel – criticised Trump’s plans for a Mexican border wall, describing it as “dangerous” and “cruel”.

“These guys are ruling with rage and anger and lies and writing fiction and making people believe those are really things and facts,” Inarritu told a news conference, referring to Trump’s immigration policies.

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