Down by Law (1986) is a quirky movie of the new American independent scene directed by the singular Jim Jarmusch and photographed by Robby Müller (that we have seen on Paris, Texas alongside Wim Wenders). The story takes place between New Orleans and the Louisiana Bayou, both beautifully highlighted by a combination of good use of black & white, creative compositions, slow travellings and great lighting.
“It’s a sad and beautiful world.”
Jack (John Lurie) and Zack (Tom Waits), two lost souls that end up in prison, and meet Roberto (Benigni, who plays his first international role), an Italian tourist who committed manslaughter. Both introvert men will be dragged into the escape plan of the extrovert and cheerful man.
The protagonists find themselves in the sewers, through the beautifully illuminated tunnels (reminding us of the movie The Third Man). According Robby Müller, “the only way to light the scene was by showing light coming from outside that reflected itself in the water against the wall.” This getaway takes them to the Louisiana bayou where the lavish use of black and white and the Blues of Louisiana permeates the warm and humid atmosphere of this re-initiation to life.
“If looks can kill, I am dead now”
The slow pace of the film, almost contemplative, is enhanced by the slow-moving camerawork: beautiful and hypnotic travelling shots, and by a special focus on small details. Due to the numerous sequence shots in the film, the light was designed with great detail. There was no place for mistake, otherwise the mystery and the dream mood would’ve been broken.
The poetic film captures different genres (without ever falling into a stereotype) like Wim Wenders’ road movies, film-noir or escape movies… This third feature film by Jim Jarmusch is in line with the previous Stranger Than Paradise, and marks a success in the director’s career. If you’d like to go farther, we invite you to watch the interview below with Robby Müller about the set up of Down by Law.