Mark Kermode reviews Romance & Cigarettes (2005) | BFI Player


My BFI Player choice this week is a raucous romcom that’s part of the BFI’s Musicals season written and directed by John Turturro and featuring a star-studded cast including James Gandolfini Susan Sarandon Christopher Walken Elaine Stritch Eddie Izzard Steve Buscemi and an utterly incendiary Kate Winslet ‘Romance & Cigarettes’ ‘Alright you bitch in heat – you’re goin’ down!’ ‘Come down from there – right now!’ A story of love and infidelity ‘Romance & Cigarettes’ was born on the set of the Coen Brothers’ classic ‘Barton Fink’ Believing that his character – a writer should actually be writing something when sitting at his typewriter Turturro hammered out a title, and the line: ‘A man should be able to be romantic, and be able to smoke his brains out’ That seed of an idea, combined with the Engelbert Humperdinck song ‘A Man Without Love’ provided the starting point for Turturro’s third feature behind the camera Having included a musical fantasy scene in his previous film ‘Illuminata’ Turturro found his new movie turning into a full-on song-and-dance production a film full of larger-than-life characters inspired by memories of his own family who seemed ‘too big for the house we lived in’ Interviewing Turturro onstage at the BFI Southbank in 2005 I asked him about the bawdiness of ‘Romance & Cigarettes’ which he attributed to his love of Charles Bukowski whose book ‘Women’ he had once been asked to direct ‘I was thinking about how tenderness and obscenity lie side by side’ he told me ‘as do spirituality and lust’ ‘I thought about Bruce Springsteen’ ‘and I wondered what it would be like if Charles Bukowski wrote something in collaboration with Bruce Springsteen’ ‘That idea really turned me on’ In fact, Turturro offered the lead role in ‘Romance & Cigarettes’ to Springsteen who demurred but supported the film by clearing the rights to his song ‘Red Headed Woman’ Meanwhile, the Coens came on board as producers declaring the script to be ‘deranged enough’ for their tastes A minor fuss over a racy poster added to the cult appeal although ‘Romance & Cigarettes’ never really found the audience it deserved Well maybe now is the time to put that right

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