2016; written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; 113 mins
How nice to end the festival on such a positive film after a lot of positive films throughout the festival and not the kind of airheaded positivity that makes you wanna stick a boot up some happy-clappy fucker’s arse. Here is a real celebration of the ordinary American population and the artists who dwell within.
Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver and ex-marine, living in Paterson, New Jersey, who writes poetry in his spare time. The film shows a typical week in Paterson’s life, getting up, going to work, listening to passengers’ conversation, thinking up poetry, coming home, having dinner, writing poetry, walking the dog and going to the bar. Routine can be a bitch to get right because it suggests characters who don’t go anywhere, emotionally and when Jim Jarmusch gets it wrong, we get the doldrums of The Limits of Control*. Here, what Jarmusch does is to place emphasis on different elements of each day and show how that inspires his poetry. So, a jilted lover at his local, a waterfall, two twin toddlers wearing the same clothes all feed into his work which seems to enjoy life. He notices almost everything: a matchbox inspires a poem about love and we see the progression of the idea as the days pass.
It shares a lot in common with the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis but whereas that is a much darker film about an unsuccessful artist, Paterson is about an artist who actively avoids any spotlight whatsoever. His wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), an enthusiastic victim to fads and crazes, encourages him to gets copies of his poems incase, one day, he wants to “show them to the world” but Paterson is simply not interested in doing so. His poetry is there for the satisfaction of creating something and documenting his experience in his own way. It seems that even his drinking buddies aren’t even aware of his artistic side. It’s not that he is aloof in any way, he just seems to enjoy art that exists in the moment and the memory of that moment. Consider a small scene in which he eavesdrops on a rapper (Method Man, apparently playing himself), constructing some rhymes whilst waiting in an all-night launderette.
Paterson seems to be a genuine gentleman who, like the film, likes people. This is definitely the Jim Jarmusch film that is sunniest in nature. There is a really funny scene on the bus in which two guys bullshit to one another about the ladies who are so into them and how they were obviously on with these chicks who may or may not exist meanwhile, a woman who gets off the bus, shoots them a look of utter contempt. The scene is sort of laughing at these guys but then, brilliantly, it cuts to their clothes: hard hats and workboots. The scene is saying, these guys may be pathetic in certain regards but they’re just ordinary working guys – they’re not the worst people on the planet.
Like another recent-ish film, Mike Leigh’s Another Year, this is a film about a genuinely happily married couple. As black-and-white obsessed, cupcake devotee and experimentalist, Laura, Iranian actress, Farahani turns what could be a flighty, irritating airhead culture vulture into someone who is more just enthusiastic and keen to absorb knowledge. The thing is Laura and Paterson are not po-faced idiots – they are not content but they make the best with what they have and for the moment, that is more than enough.
In one late scene, we do see the past rear it’s head. Very briefly but it tells you an awful lot about his previous life as a marine and gives you a glimpse into what makes this man so quiet and humble. It’s a PTSD moment in which Paterson’s calm veneer slips after a shockingly threatening incident at the bar. This is quite a thing for a Jarmusch protagonist and whilst Adam Driver’s fantastic face joins the likes of John Lurie, Bill Murray, Johnny Depp and Forest Whittaker in this director’s gallery of hangdog heroes, this development makes him stick out from the pack. Even in Broken Flowers, which is a movie all about raking over the past, we don’t really know what gives Don Johnston his misanthropic demeanour. Jarmusch protagonists just are that way and we find out about them by how they react in the moment.
… and the poetry is really good, too, by the way, courtesy of Ron Padgett, an Oklahoma-born poet. I am a Philistine when it comes to poetry and have a low threshold for platitudinous wank (Endless Poetry) but because, here, we are given a forensic insight into the workings of an ordinary man’s artistic endeavour, it renders the poetry relatable.
Frederick Elmes‘ photography, like with Christopher Blauveit‘s work on Certain Women, finds beauty in the everyday without fetishising poverty. There’s a bit of Aki Kaurismäki in there, composition-wise and certainly in the amount of laughs there are. This is another saving grace of Jim Jarmusch which has stopped most of his films from going up their own arse (again, see The Limits of Control). There are some nice running gags and great character comedy that relies on individuals rather than stereotypes.
I’ve been a Jarmusch fan for over ten years and this is the first of his I’ve been able to see at the cinema. How great that it’s also one of his absolute best!
*Don’t let that trailer fool you – it is so boring!