Cate Blanchett in ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’

This week a double Cate Balnchett. In one of eleven vignettes included in Jim Jarmusch’s anthology film Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Blanchett plays a version of herself as well as her ne’er do well “cousin,” Shelly. We discuss the film and performance and why it stands out in her filmography. For this conversation podcast host Murtada Elfadl welcomes writer and critic Ela Bittencourt of the film site Lyssaria.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB: A series of vignettes that all have coffee and cigarettes in common.

Who does Cate play? A version of herself as Movie Star Cate blanchett meeting her cousin Shelly (also Blanchett) for coffee at the lobby of a swanky hotel. 

 How is Cate introduced? Her vignette titled Cousins starts 42 mins in.

What year did it come out? 2003

Critical Response: Metacritic : 65 RT: 64%

Topics discussed:

  • What does Blanchett’s as a star actor gain from taking this smaller role besides collaborating with Jarmusch?
  • The trick and gimmick of playing against or with yourself makes Blanchett’s the standout vignette. There’s in the visual and sonic contrast between the two characters blond vs dark haired, business couture vs. casual punk, thick Australian accent vs a more continental one.
  • Interlocking themes include disinterest from one of the two parties, almost all the meetings start with eagerness then end in disappointment.
  • The different acting styles within the film; heightened (Blanchett), natural (Bill Murray), grounded and “real” (Alfred Molina).
  • This performance reminded me of her performances in Documentary Now; she’s playing an exaggerated version of someone famous but in this case herself. Also Manifesto where she plays up the costumes and makeup to create distinct characters.
  • What we enjoy about Jim Jarmusch mentioning some of his other films including Paterson and Only Lovers Left Alive.
  • We reminisce briefly about watching Blanchett on stage as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

In the two strongest chapters — the one featuring Ms. Blanchett and another in which Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina play a deft game of celebrity one-upmanship — such vague discomforts blossom into one-act dramas of envy and suspicion.[It] has the serendipitous coherence of an old LP. Some of the tracks are stronger than others, but the magic lies in the echoes and unexpected harmonies between the selections. ” – Dana Stevens, NYTimes.

The scorecard at the end is unimpressive: six outright duds, three passable bits, and only two successes. The irony is that the best sketches also happen to be the most conventional. In “Cousins,” Cate Blanchett plays herself and her resentful cousin, Shelly, meeting for coffee in a posh hotel lobby. Blanchett’s Cate is regal, classy and generous—the way we imagine Blanchett herself to be. The punky Shelly, meanwhile, exudes passive-aggressive envy, her self-deprecation doubling as a sly prick on the self-conscious Cate’s conscience.” – Elbert Ventura, Reverse Shot.

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‘Blue Jasmine’ Part 2 – The Streetcar Allusions

In part 2 of the Blue Jasmine miniseries, we discuss the similarities with Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, the character of Blanche Dubois, clearly is the blueprint for Jasmine. The many actresses who played Blanche or were inspired by her from the women in Pedro Almodovar’s movies to Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence to most recently Carey Mulligan in Wildlife.  Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest TV and Film Journalist Candice Frederick.

Screen Shot 2020-02-18 at 9.10.40 AM

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Follow along, the film is streaming at Amazon.

What is the film about?

From IMDB: A New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial, arrives in San Francisco to impose upon her sister. She looks a million, but isn’t bringing money, peace, or love…

What year did it come out?

July 2013

Who does Cate play?

Jasmine of course. One of her many titular characters.

How is Cate introduced?

Immediately and memorably. Jabbering away about her life and marriage to a stranger on a plane, sets the tone for how unstable the character is. 

Box Office: Domestic = $33MM         Int’l = $66MM

Metacritic : 78         RT: 91 

We explore the relationship between the sisters in this episode

Topics discussed:

  • Blue Jasmine as a riff on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Woody Allen denied the connection, though it’s obvious to anyone who knows the play.
  • The differences between Streetcar and Jasmine:

– No sexual tension between Jasmine / Chilli as there was btw Blanche / Stanley.

– It’s Jasmine’s story, diminished roles for other characters.      

– Modernized Streetcar though themes of class disparity are consistent.

  • Blanche is written and played more vulnerable than Jasmine, though they are both architects of their own destruction.
  •  Cate has played Blanche DuBois in a production directed by Liv Ullman that came to BAM in 2009. 
  • Other actresses who played Blanche (it’s a right of passage) include: Vivien Leigh, Jessica Lange, Rachel Weisz, Gillian Anderson, Nicole Ari Parker.
  • Other performances in the vein of “women unravelling” so many examples from Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence to Carey Mulligan in Wildlife to a whole array of Pedro Almodovar leading ladies particulary in All About My Mother.
  • Blanchett’s performance in relation to the other actors, in particular her chemistry with Sally Hawkins as the “Stella” to her “Blanche”.  

Blanchett and Hawkins as Blanche/Jasmine and Stella/Ginger

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“This is a film that draws deep from the well of A Streetcar Named Desire. Cate Blanchett, who has played Blanche du Bois onstage, is here cast as an updated version of Tennessee Williams’s anti-heroine, Blanche’s reveries about a faded Southern aristocracy replaced with contemporary delusions bred by life as lived among the 1 percent in Manhattan and the Hamptons. The film begins with Jasmine (née Jeanette) arriving in San Francisco, broke but still flying first class, the dazed victim of a financial scandal involving her former husband. Now homeless, she is forced to rely on the comfort of her estranged sister, Ginger, who is romantically involved with a blue-collar lug named Chili. (Although we see Chili in a wife-beater, he refrains from shouting, Hey, Ginnnnn-gerrrrrr!!!!) Like Streetcar, Blue Jasmine is the story of Jasmine’s further humbling, of upper-class pretension dashing against the rock of working-class earthiness; also like Streetcar, Allen’s work shares its heroine’s snobbery, the director as appalled as Jasmine by Chili’s and Ginger’s gaucheries, their lack of interest in high culture, their aspirational void”Vanity Fair


Blanchett, Blanche — the names seem fated for each. Mr. Allen has said that he didn’t see Ms. Blanchett play Tennessee Williams’s most famous creation in Liv Ullmann’s celebrated 2009 production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Jasmine’s appalled aside about being forced to move to Brooklyn after being priced out of Manhattan amusingly suggests why he didn’t.) Whatever his inspiration, he has been rummaging around in the classics for decades, so his appropriation of “Streetcar” doesn’t surprise. What does is his reimagining Blanche by way of another figure who changes depending on how you hold her up to the light, Ruth Madoff, the wife of Bernard L. Madoff, the investor turned avatar of a fallen world. It’s a masterly stroke that puts Jasmine’s dissembling into fresh, chilling perspective.

The allusions to “Streetcar” are copious and obvious, and spotting the quotations initially feels like a kind of humorous parlor game, from the French connection that links Blanche and Jasmine’s names to Mr. Allen’s staging of a violent skirmish, which echoes a similar one in Elia Kazan’s film adaptation. Underscoring the resemblances, Jasmine repeatedly explains that “Blue Moon” was playing when she met Hal, memories that evoke the blue piano that, as Williams wrote in “Streetcar,” expresses “the spirit of the life which goes on here.” In the play, Blanche also says that Stanley isn’t the type who goes for jasmine perfume, an aside that carries an accusation.” – Manohla Dargis, NYTimes

ScreenPrism on the similarities between Blue Jasmine and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Blanchett and Joel Edgerton in Liv Ullman’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire

Reviews of Cate as Blanche on Stage:

“What Ms. Blanchett brings to the character is life itself, a primal survival instinct that keeps her on her feet long after she has been buffeted by blows that would level a heavyweight boxer. Ms. Blanchett’s Blanche is always on the verge of falling apart, yet she keeps summoning the strength to wrestle with a world that insists on pushing her away. Blanche’s burden, in existential terms, becomes ours. And a most particular idiosyncratic creature acquires the universality that is the stuff of tragedy. All the baggage that any “Streetcar” usually travels with has been jettisoned. Ms. Ullmann and Ms. Blanchett have performed the play as if it had never been staged before, with the result that, as a friend of mine put it, “you feel like you’re hearing words you thought you knew pronounced correctly for the first time.” Blessed perhaps with an outsider’s distance on an American cultural monument, Ms. Ullmann and Ms. Blanchett have, first of all, restored Blanche to the center of “Streetcar.” – NYTimes

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