Broken Flowers: Ethiopian Cheese Dip and Injera Bread

Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: • Bill Murray, Julie Delpy, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Convoy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton,
(R, 106 min.)

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

The critics gush while Bill Murray sleepwalks through a film that tries its darnedest to be devoid of meaning. Guess what? It succeeds. 

It isn’t just the flowers that are broken – though, actually the film brims with lovely bouquets, all of them pink—but the standards of the Cannes judges who awarded this pretender their grand jury prize. Recently reviewed To Live, which won the same award in 1996, was a glorious film, a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit. What a difference a (not quite) decade makes.

More aptly named “Broken Spirit,” Broken Flowers mistakes deadpan for drama, depression for depth, and play acting for profundity. 

The story line is not a bad one. Aging ladies’ man Don Johnston (Murray) gets two shocks end to end. His current live in, Sherry, decries her status – “I’m like your mistress, except you’re not even married,” and walks out the door in her tidy pink suit. After a half-hearted effort to change her mind, Johnston stares vacantly at the TV screen and curls up into a fetal position. The next day he receives a cryptic typewritten letter telling him that he has a nineteen year old son possibly en route to discover dear old Dad. 

But for the fact that he has opened this letter at his neighbor’s house, Johnston’s reaction to it would probably have been the same coma like trance. But neighbor Winston is the terrier to Johnson’s basset hound, his home the first day of school to Johnson’s deserted summertime hallways. The fact that the letter has neither signature nor return address would not present a problem to most men, who could pinpoint their paramour from twenty years past. As it is, Don can only narrow it down to five possibilities. 

So Winston surfs the net, finds addresses, and arranges everything from airplane reservations to car rentals for Don’s trip to discover which of the old flames has written the letter. The fact that Winston musters more interest in Don’s possible parenthood than Don himself, and that he manages to do all this while holding down three jobs, heading a family of seven, as well as pursuing his avocation as amateur sleuth, underscores by contrast Don’s physical and emotional paralysis.

Will the enigmatic letter and journey to discover the mother of his purported child shake Don out of it? Here is where the film begins to go awry. What could have been a journey toward self-discovery and rebirth stalls on the clichéd and stereotyped portrayals of Don’s past loves. This part of the film is also ripe with lame insider jokes, like the color pink which keeps reemerging. Obedient to Winston’s instructions that he is to be on the lookout for anything pink, since indeed the letter and envelope are of that tint, Don and the camera pick up a penchant for this color in almost every encounter. There are pink dinette chairs at Laura’s house, pink business cards for second flame Dora, and even an old pink typewriter cast out on Penney’s lawn. We are also treated to a perfectly gratuitous reincarnation of pubescent sexuality in Laura’s daughter appropriately named Lolita.

Some critics have cooed that Broken Flowers should be lauded for showcasing the talent of no longer nubile actresses such as Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and the like, which would be fine if they had been given a script with any dimension or depth. As it is, they are part of an ongoing joke about eccentric bordering on ludicrous career choices. Sharon Stone (Laura) arranges other people’s closets while Dora (Frances Conroy) sells “quality prefabs” and lives in a particularly sterile one with her smarmy husband. Pet communicator Carmen (Jessica Lange) protests she is not a pet psychic, but then goes on to interpret the meaningful stare her cat drills into Don. “He thinks you have a hidden agenda,” she explains. Finally, Penney (Tilda Swinton) seems to be living out an infinite rerun of the Dukes of Hazzard with its characters shifting gears into middle age squalor.

Perhaps if Don had approached the subject directly, asking each past love if she’d written the letter about a son, he might have gotten somewhere. Instead he falls in with Winston’s vicarious sleuthing, and morphs into Peter Sellars’ Inspector Clouseau, arriving unannounced, toting a pink bouquet, and full of nonchalant inquiries into possible typewriters lurking on the premises. No wonder at least one of his visits lands him a black eye.

Jack Nicholson ‘s quest in About Schmidt was similarly futile, but his sometimes kookie encounters had an ironic humor that resonated. Waiting for Godot was about nothing, but gloriously so. Broken Flowers is a post modern pretender that wears its existential angst like ill fitting clothes gleaned from the attic. Don’t fall for this tiresome trek to nowhere.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

If I wanted to bore you to death, I could recreate the meal Don shares with Dora and her husband, one as unimaginative and prefab as their houses. In fact, as dramatic underscoring, the meal itself is one of the more creative parts of the otherwise tedious film. A piece of chicken, bearing no resemblance to the fowl from which it apparently originated, is a square with charred grill lines which we suspect to be artificial. Except for plastically content Dora and Ron, the only person satisfied with such dry uniformity would be a former colleague of mine who had a bird phobia and could not bear to eat any fowl that actually looked like one. Rice that still retained the shape of a Styrofoam cup from which it probably was released, and the oh-so-orange crinkle cut carrots complete the anemic menu.

Buts let's go to the one place where there is some life, where even catatonic Don shows some signs of emerging from his stupor. Winston, his Ethiopian neighbor, treats Don to exquisite coffee from his native land as well as Sunday brunch. Just imagine if Don could eat this way for a week. He might emerge as a butterfly from his self-spun cocoon.

Find out about the origins of this wonderful java here.

Use it to wash down this delightful brunch.

Ethiopian Cheese Dip and Injera Bread

Ethiopian Cheese Dip

This tangy dip was made with goat or sheep's cheese, but you can substitute more readily available soft cheeses and add a little more lemon zest to simulate the original. 

  • 1 lb fresh goat cheese or sheep's milk cheese, farmer's cheese or pot cheese 
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt 
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro 
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil 
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano 
  • 1-3 teaspoons grated lemons, zest of 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, about

Yields 2 cups 

10 mins prep

Injera Bread

Margarita's Favorite Recipes has a simple recipe for this delicious pancake like bread from Ethiopia.

Injera is the pancake-like bread. Use it to scoop up the delicious cheese dip. 

  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 2 cups seltzer or bubbly water

Mix the flour with the water. You want to have a somewhat liquid consistency. Heat a large non-stick frying pan. The secret of making injera is that the pan be very hot. Pour a thin layer of mixture on the pan. Cook until the bottom goldens and the top becomes sponge like.

Recipe Source: Recipezaar