on Evolution of “Broken Flowers” (by Howard Feinstein, August 4, 2005)

Movie-savvy readers, who have followed articles about Jim Jarmusch’s picaresque “Broken Flowers” ever since it took the Grand Prix at Cannes in May, are familiar with its spare plot. Film icon Bill Murray plays ennui-ridden Don Johnston, a wealthy retiree and lifelong Lothario described by the director as “a man with a hole in his life” — the latest in Jarmusch’s gallery of isolated protagonists. Don receives an anonymous unsigned letter on pink stationery informing him that he has a 19-year-old son. Partly out of curiosity but mostly out of endless prodding by his friend and neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), a working-class Ethiopian immigrant and amateur sleuth, Don embarks on a trip around the States to check out the motherhood status of four ex-girlfriends from two decades before. The women are played by Tilda Swinton, Frances Conroy, Sharon Stone, and Jessica Lange injecting indie, television, and even more Hollywood star power into the film.

What most readers don’t know is that “Broken Flowers” — a kissin’ cousin to Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1949 “A Letter to Three Wives” — is the offshoot of an earlier script, “Three Moons in the Sky,” also penned for Murray. “It’s about a polygamist who deeply loves each of his three wives and families but keeps them secret from one another,” Jarmusch explains. He chats affably in the garden of an upscale Cannes hotel, his silver mane attracting the attention of passersby. “The man works his ass off to maintain the secret, but it wears him down.” Murray agreed to do the picture. Jarmusch recalls that he then obtained most of the financing during the 2002 Cannes festival, where his Chloe Sevigny-starrer “Int. Trailer Night” was playing. (It is a segment in the omnibus film “Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet.”) Now the screenplay is, he says, “in a drawer.” He had second thoughts after he returned home.

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