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Paterson

By Spectator, 2017-03-09

Paterson, is set in Paterson, New Jersey, and its protagonist is a bus driver (wonderfully played by Adam Driver.) also coincidentally named Paterson. Paterson the bus-driver, writes poetry; he thinks poetry while walking to and from the bus depot, he writes in his notebook (his so-called secret notebook) at the wheel of his bus while waiting for his shift to begin; he writes during his lunch hour while sitting on a bench beside his favorite place, the Great Falls of the Passaic River,

One of the sweetest scenes in writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s whimsical film show two poets discussing a poem. One is the film’s title character Paterson and the other is a young school girl who he happens to meet outside the city bus depot on his way home. Neither the bus-driver nor the film condescend to the child; when she offers to read him one of her poems, Paterson listens intently to a convincingly offbeat description of rainfall, and tells her, in all sincerity, that the poem is beautiful. Everyone, these scenes suggest, is capable of art.

Slowly building his themes through gentle comic repetition, Jarmusch follows the likeable protagonist through one week of his ordered daily routine, from home to the bus depot, through the streets of Paterson at the wheel and then home again to a dinner prepared by his loving Iranian-American wife and stopping at his local neighborhood bar for a beer. His poetry is entwined in and enhances the mundane. For instance, he is working on a poem about the form and function of a box of Ohio Blue Tip Matches that sits in his kitchen. His writing seems to both flow from the sameness of his routine and to summarize the comfort he takes in it. 

Jarmusch unhurriedly crafts a cinematic ode to finding both art and delight in the every-day. However, not everybody in Paterson is gentle and non-dramatic. One character is an obsessive actor who is stalking his ex-girlfriend, angrily pestering her in the bar where Paterson drinks his nightly beer. She tells Paterson that he is just trying on emotions, play-acting jealousy, but his inability to distinguish between life and art proves dangerous in an infrequent moment of drama.

The other figure is often comic: Paterson’s stunning wife Laura, who is portrayed with enormous, unaffected charm by the Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani. Laura is a butterfly of unburdened delight, a whirlwind of creative impulses, an artist in search of her medium and the main variable in Paterson's life. She is a woman of projects. For example, on Monday she’s all about opening a cupcake shop; by Tuesday she’s taking guitar lessons and dreaming of country-singer stardom. She’s very sweetly crazy, and you can see how Paterson adores her, while gently humoring everything about her that’s as nutty as a fruitcake. Paterson himself is very different. Unlike Laura, he’s an introvert set in his ways: a bowl of Cheerios every morning, a single beer every night, the latter in the bemused company of barkeep Doc (deftly portrayed by Barry Shabaka Henley). 

Paterson has no conception of making a career out of his poetry, or even showing it to anyone other than her. But the effervescent Laura provides a nice foil for Adam Driver’s understated delivery of the generous and long-suffering Paterson. Her competing energy suggests that these two, in their own way, complete each other. The couple has a colorful, scene-stealing English bulldog, Marvin, who wheezes in the corner and joins Paterson on his nightly walks.

The movie Paterson and Jarmusch’s films in general (he has made thirteen) are not for everybody. His focus is on gentleness, humbleness and character, not plot, which is mostly uneventful. His latest addresses that rarest of things in art as in life — a nice man and a completely happy marriage. Paterson is about splendor in the everyday and has a haiku beauty. I highly recommend it to those of you who enjoy low-key quiet films. More on IMDB



 

 

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