HAVING released just two films in the past decade, Jim Jarmusch is by no means the world’s most prolific director.
What a welcome surprise it is then to be treated to two Jarmusch projects in 2016. The indie favourite’s “Iggy Pop and the Stooges” documentary, Gimme Danger, proved to be an unfortunately flat affair, telling the legendary punk band’s story with about as much raw power as a tribute album.
The Adam Driver-led Paterson, however, is a poetic, unique and quietly moving experience – the most wonderfully ‘Jarmusch’ film the director has made in years.
Driver plays Paterson – a bus driver living in the town of Paterson, New Jersey; just one of the mundane, idle coincidences on which the film’s pensive narrative thrives.
Every day, Paterson wakes up before his artist girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks to work, drives his bus around the city, and then walks home.
Throughout, Paterson listens, observes and breathes in the world around him, composing wonderfully minimalist poetry in a notebook he takes everywhere.
Every evening after work, Paterson eats dinner with Laura, walks their dog Marvin, and then chats with the regulars over a few drinks at a local bar.
Perhaps more so than anything Jarmusch has ever produced, Paterson is a film where nothing really happens.
The low-key narrative takes place over the course of a week, with each day driven by a cycle of familiarity, interrupted only by randomly observed coincidences.
Quietly, Paterson relishes in the repetitive everyday experience. The most prosaic instances are granted romantic weight when in the presence of the bus-driving poet, such as an innocuous box of matches, a conversation on the bus, the recurrent appearance of sets of twins.
As the repetition becomes more rigid and obvious, patterns begin to emerge elsewhere – most conspicuously, in the offbeat black and white art Laura gradually covers the inside of their entire house with.
Jarmusch successfully communicates the wonder of the incidental everyday to the audience – just as filmmaker and protagonist alike relish in repetition and mundane coincidence, we too gradually begin to delight in the poetics of the everyday.
When the narrative starts to sporadically break with that repetition, then, the results are often affecting and quietly devastating.
There’s little room for improvisation here, Paterson is prepared and performed to Jarmusch’s rigorous, formulated, pensive style.
The film’s more poetic segments are built around a gorgeous combination of word, image and music.
Thoughtfully composed shots of small-town America are overlain with the scrawled words of Paterson’s poetry as he writes it aloud.
Underneath it all is the harmonious, droning soundtrack from Squrl – Jarmusch’s musical side project. The cumulative effect is often wondrously hypnotic.
Despite telling a story essentially about nothing, Paterson’s dreamy structure and lackadaisical narrative never drags or slows to a crawl.
Driver yet again proves how incredibly likeable he can be as the film’s privately romantic protagonist – sober and softly spoken, he’s a friend to all, and is often looked to for sage wisdom from a supporting cast packed with welcome, familiar faces.
Iranian actress Farahani is wonderful as Paterson’s hyperactively passionate girlfriend, who urges him to share his poems with the world.
Paterson is a wonderful film, and its protagonist a unique, quietly inspirational individual.
While you shouldn’t expect a conventionally emotional payoff, the experience of viewing Paterson is a reward in itself.