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Paterson
USA 2016
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Running time 118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Synopsis: A  week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and poet who lives in Paterson, N.J.

Jim Jarmusch characteristically structures his films with recurring themes and patterns – three intersecting narrative threads in Mystery Train (1989), multiple snapshots of night-time taxi drivers at work in Night On Earth (1991) and casual café encounters in Coffee And Cigarettes (2004). It is a strategy which keeps his films small-scaled, akin to collections of short stories rather than the more ambitious form of the novel.  Combine this with a penchant for run-down  inner-city, semi-industrial landscapes, laconic characters, and low-fi moody soundtracks and you have a very distinctive style which the director has worked and re-worked with varying success for now over 35 years. Although Ghost Dog:The Way of the Samurai (2000) remains my favourite Jarmusch film it is somewhat of an oddity in his oeuvre. Paterson on the other hand is in many the director’s most polished work in his signature style.

Using the days of the week as a formal structuring device, the film focuses on Adam Driver’s titular character, an unassuming chap whose home life with his girlfriend (Golshifteh Farahani) and their English bulldog, Marvin (Nellie) runs as regularly as the bus he drives.  With each day repeating itself with unbroken equanimity, he has the time to write poetry about the small things in his life, like his favourite brand of matches.  

Whilst we are presented this picture of simple mundanity with characteristic dead-pan irony, a week watching paint dry can feel like a very long time and Paterson’s life is only a couple of degrees off this, so Jarmusch varies the monotony with a nightly visit to a local bar, where Paterson chats with the bar-keep (Barry Shabaka Henley) and interacts with the patrons, perhaps, we feel, as a kind of respite from his almost suffocatingly blissful home life and his sweet but presumably dysfunctional wife who stays at home decorating everything, including her cup-cakes, with black-and-white designs and dreaming of being a country singer.

If this is all the film had been it would have been mid-range Jarmusch but what lifts it above its peers is that he has interwoven into his observational narrative a kind of multi-layered homage to poetry in general and in particular the poetry of William Carlos Williams, Paterson’s favourite poet who actually wrote an epic five volume poem about the actual town of Paterson. In a way Paterson the bus driver is like the Zen-like embodiment of these inter-relationships. Poetry isn’t just something that he does, it is what he is. This is brought home at the film’s end when Paterson, saddened by the fact that Marvin has just demolished his book of poems and is sitting watching the town’s waterfall (which also has a poetic cross-reference within the story) he is approached by a Japanese visitor (Masatoshi Nagase) who has made a pilgrimage to the setting of William Carlos Williams’ “Paterson”. They talk about poetry and Paterson denies that he is a poet but the visitor leaves him with a new notebook for his poems and an "a-ha". And so it goes.

Beautifully filmed by veteran cinematographer Fred Elmes (one of his best-known efforts being David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1978) and with a resonant score by Sqürl, Paterson is a film of contemplative subtleties. Not one to see when you’re looking to be distracted by screen hi-jinx but Jarmusch fans in particular shouldn’t miss it.

 

 

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