Stranger Than Paradise is a 1984 American absurdist/deadpan comedy film. It was written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and stars jazz musician John Lurie, former Sonic Youth drummer-turned-actor Richard Edson, and Hungarian-born actress Eszter Balint. The film features a minimalist plot in which the main character, Willie, has a cousin from Hungary, Eva, stay with him for ten days before going to Cleveland. Willie and his friend Eddie eventually go to Cleveland to visit Eva.
The film has an unusual style, as it was shot in black-and-white and features only non-professional actors. It is also notable for its historical importance, particularly its influence on independent cinema. The low-budget aesthetics of the film set an example for later independent directors.
Writer and director Jim Jarmusch had initially shot his first feature, Permanent Vacation (1980) as his final thesis while at New York University‘s film school, and spent the following four years making Stranger than Paradise. At NYU, he had studied under iconic 20th century director Nicholas Ray, who had brought him along as his personal assistant for the production of Lightning over Water, a portrait of Ray that was being filmed by Wim Wenders. It was Wenders who granted Jarmusch the leftover film stock from his subsequent film Der Stand der Dinge (1982) that would enable the young director to shoot the 30-minute short subject film that would become Stranger Than Paradise. This short was released as a standalone film in 1982, and shown as “Stranger Than Paradise” at the 1983 International Film Festival Rotterdam. When it was later expanded into a three-act feature, that name was appropriated for the feature itself, and the initial segment was renamed “The New World”.
The film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Caméra d’Or award for debut films. It also won the Golden Leopard and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention at the 1984 Locarno International Film Festival, the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1985 and National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Picture of 1985.