Cannes Film Fest 2019: Jarmusch Political Zombie Comedy

Jim Jarmusch’s political zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die was a bold and unusual choice for Tuesday night’s festival opener, as Cannes typically begins with a French or European drama.

Instead, the audience in the Grand Théâtre Lumière watched as Jarmusch skewered Donald Trump-era politics in a satire, in which the residents of small town Centerville, U.S.A. (“A Real Nice Place,” according to its road signs) come to terms with an environmental apocalypse caused by “polar fracking.”

The political messaging began on the red carpet, as Jarmusch and his cast, including Adam Driver and Bill Murray as Centerville’s police, Tilda Swinton as a mortician who happens to have surprisingly practical swordsmanship skills and Selena Gomez as a hipster passing through town, entered the Palais to speakers booming Bruce Springsteen’s heartland anthem “Born in the U.S.A.”

Jarmusch’s message didn’t always seem to land as intended with the multinational audience in the Lumière, and his actors’ deadpan delivery may have suffered in translation, as the laughs were few and applause muted.

The black-tie clad crowd had just sat through a French-language opening ceremony about the power of cinema.

Jarmusch’s indictment of U.S. ideology is framed in a tale in which a strange, polar fracking-linked phenomenon is disrupting the rotation of the earth and awakening the town of Centerville’s corpses.

Buscemi’s Dog: Rumsfeld

Centerville’s resident curmudgeon is a farmer played by Steve Buscemi who has a dog named Rumsfeld, listens with apparent agreement to news commentators who praise polar fracking for supplying needed jobs and energy to the country and wears a variation on Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” cap, which says “Keep America White Again.”

“It’s a very anti-Trump film,” Thierry Frémaux said at his opening press conference. “It talks about American hegemony. America is an extraordinary country. With Jarmusch, we can expect that he is not very happy with what’s happening at present.”

Politics had surfaced earlier in the day at the festival, when Cannes jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu made a reference to Trump during the jury press conference, while talking about his Mexican border crossing virtual reality installation that premiered at Cannes in 2017, Carne y Arena.