In Paterson, director Jim Jarmusch filters the minutiae of suburban life through a poetic lens, and celebrates the modest but spiritually nourishing creativity of ordinary people. Exquisite.
It’s raining Jim Jarmusch treats! First came Gimme Danger, his terrif doco on Iggy and The Stooges (an absolute must-see for Stooges fans), and now the wonderful Paterson – for mine, the standout so far of the generally excellent 2016-17 Perth International Film Festival.
Paterson is both the name of the lead character (brilliantly played by Adam Driver), and of the relatively small and unremarkable New Jersey city in which he lives. It’s no coincidence that the town’s most famous resident was poet William Carlos Williams, whose verse heightened and celebrated the local and the ordinary. (He’s the guy who wrote This Is Just to Say, the delightful refrigerated plum poem from everyone’s school days). In a sense, the entire film is an homage to Williams, with Jarmusch and his protagonist seeking – and finding – a simple lyrical beauty in the daily routines and mundane sights and sounds of the city.
Paterson (the character, not the city – this is getting confusing!) is a laid-back bus driver. If he was any more laid back he’d be comatose! But it’s a case of still waters running deep. He lives a contented small life of routines, within which he manages to find time to write poetry of a similar ilk to William Carlos Williams.
One of the pleasures of the movie is having the poetic quality of his verse (handwritten in a notebook, and narrated line by line in voiceover by Driver) reveal itself as the creative process unfolds. A seemingly prosaic description of his favorite matches, for example, magically and dramatically transforms into a love poem with the lines:
So sober and furious and stubbornly ready
To burst into flame
Lighting, perhaps the cigarette of the woman you love
For the first time…
On waking each morning, Paterson takes a moment to contemplate the beauty of his sleeping Middle-Eastern wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). There’s a delectable shot of her in repose early in the film, with the sheets delicately arranged to expose one side of her naked body, without compromising her modesty. Cinematographic art, no less.
At the start of each working day Paterson finds humour in the constant whinging of his bus inspector. As he drives his route, he observes his passengers and eavesdrops on their conversations, absorbing details that might find their way into a poem.
Back home after work, he is “treated” to Laura’s often wacky culinary inventions, which he praises regardless of merit. Every evening after dinner he takes the dog, Marvin, for a walk to the local pub, where an episodic drama of unrequited love plays out nightly between a besotted regular and his unresponsive female friend.
Whereas Paterson’s creative nature is slow-burning and undemonstrative, Laura’s is spontaneous and exuberant. She’s a dippy free spirit with a penchant – actually, an obsession – with designing in black and white. Her clothes are a riot of black and white dots, stripes, circles, splatters, whatever. The crockery and virtually every paintable surface of their home are adorned with her handiwork. At the weekends, she takes trays of her home-baked black-and-white-iced cupcakes to a local farmers’ market.
Laura loves Paterson’s poems and encourages him to print copies for posterity. He’s not bothered (obvious Chekov gun trope there). Paterson, for his part, enjoys his wife’s extroversion and impulsiveness, although he’s tested a little when she decides she must fork out hundreds of bucks they can’t afford for a “Harlequin” guitar in pursuit of her dream to be a country music star.
Nothing much happens throughout, but this is not a narrative-driven movie. It’s an idealised and quite exquisite poetic re-imagining of the minutiae of ordinary life and a celebration of the modest but spiritually nourishing creativity of ordinary people. This is territory in which Jarmusch excels, and Paterson is up with his very best. Unmissable.
Movie website: http://www.bleeckerstreetmedia.com/paterson
Paterson screening dates (2016-17 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival):
UWA Somerville: Mon 2–Sun 8 Jan 2017, 8pm
ECU Joondalup Pines: Tue 10–Sun 15 Jan 2017, 8pm
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