CANNES, France -- Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to put the dead in deadpan.
The writer-director brings his trademark laid-back style and delight in subverting genre to "The Dead Don't Die," a whacked-out zombie movie that, much to the filmmaker's surprise, opened the Festival de Cannes on Tuesday night.
"I never thought I'd be in Cannes at all; I especially didn't think so with this film," says Jarmusch, an appealingly relaxed silver-haired presence dressed in his usual all-black outfit with sunglasses to match.
Referring to an eclectic cast that includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Selena Gomez and Tom Waits as Hermit Bob, Jarmusch said he told festival topper Thierry Fremaux, "Cannes may be a big circus, but we brought our own clowns."
Opening in the U.S. on June 14, "Dead" details what happens when "a full-on zombie apocalypse" hits the mythical town of Centerville ("A Real Nice Place," it says right there on the sign).
In typical Jarmusch fashion, "Dead" has a lot of amusing idiosyncratic touches, including self-referential comments that Murray and Driver, as the town's police chief and top deputy, make about the film -- cracks about having read the script and the chief asking the deputy if he's improvising.
Fun is also had with the film's Sturgill Simpson country-inflected title song, which features the stirring chorus, "After life is over, the afterlife goes on."
When you add the playful touches to the film's bleak conclusion and metaphorical references to American life today, critics have treated "Dead" with a seriousness Jarmusch finds a little daunting.
"It's not intended to be dark and fatalistic; I think of it as a funny film," the director says.
"It wasn't like 'I shall make this grand Pirandellian effort.' It was 'Is this amusing me while I'm up at night writing?' Beyond that I didn't know. My motto was, 'We'll burn that bridge when we get to it.'"