Jarmusch’s understated film about a bus-driving poet is both a charming and tranquil experience.
Dir. Jim Jarmusch
2016 | USA | Drama/Romance/Comedy | 118 mins | 1.85: 1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for some language
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
Plot: A quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.
Awards: Won Palm Dog, Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: K5 International
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate/Offbeat
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 7 Jun 2017)
Only my second Jim Jarmusch film, after the stylish and offbeat Down by Law (1986), Paterson is a wholly different picture set in New Jersey about a bus-driving poet whom we share the humdrum of his daily life with from Monday through to Sunday. It works splendidly as a character study, starring Adam Driver in the lead role as Paterson, who works in the town of Paterson.
One might find it funny to watch a film with two real-reel dualities—‘Paterson’ as real location and fictional person’s name, as well as ‘Driver’ as real person’s name and fictional profession. But as the film goes on, it seems almost prophetic that that is the case.
“Sometimes an empty page presents more possibilities.”
After all, Jarmusch’s film makes the mention of twins, a form of natural duality, and whom we see travel in Paterson’s bus. In another scene, we see a young girl (also a twin) recite her own poem to Paterson entitled ‘Water Falls’, a play on the word waterfalls (which we see visually in the form of the Great Falls Historic District in Paterson, NJ).
I find this engagement in dualities, of the literal and the metaphorical, and the literary and the cinematic, an essential way to grasp this deceptively simple film about the daily grind, transformed through the genius of Jarmusch’s Midas touch.
Paterson is not just about poetry and bus driving, but also of the romance between Paterson and his partner, Laura (played by an endearing Iranian actress by the name of Golshifteh Farahani). They share a bulldog called Marvin, possibly the most charming character in the whole film. Its actual name was Nellie, who became the first dog to win the Cannes Palm Dog posthumously after it died from cancer after production.
Adam Driver went to bus driving school for his role in the film. While the production crew was arranging for him to get a bus license, he had already figured it out and was already in the school.
Paterson is one of those films where nothing much happens, but that in itself reveals so much that is hidden—the beauty of existence, the excitement of artistic creation, and the pleasantries of kinship. It is a very gentle film, and for me, the word that best describes Jarmusch’s work is… tranquility.
If you allow yourself to slow down to the film’s leisurely pace, you might just re-center your inner self. In fact, I found shots of Paterson’s bus navigating the streets therapeutic to watch, like a koi gliding effortlessly in clear water.
Best of all, Paterson isn’t boring. There’s enough in each daily segment to offer something new each time. By the end of the film, you might just feel that you have been nudged by Jarmusch—to go develop yourself artistically. What appears to be his most personal endeavour to date might just also be his most life-affirming.