Monday 28 November 2016
Solo Killer Patters On
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
UK cinema release print.
Paterson is one of those quietly paced, unassuming masterpieces that Jim Jarmusch releases to the world with a minimum of fuss and which then continue to haunt you for months or years at a time.
I’m rarely disappointed with this director, a man I’ve been watching since I first saw his third feature, the excellent Down By Law (reviewed here), when it debuted on the Alex Cox presented BBC2 TV season of Moviedrome, back in 1990. He is one of the key directors of the 1980s independent American cinema movement (if such a thing really exists) along with other notables such as Hal Hartley and, to a certain extent, Steven Soderbergh.
This movie has funny timing for me because, only the other day, I was contemplating the current state of the ‘indie film movement’ and was thinking that a lot of those kinds of directors either stay in their particular artistic niche and continue to make very similar films with declining profits (because they are no longer the ‘new face on the scene’) or they start making bigger, more commercial films for major Hollywood studios and kind of accidentally stop doing what they were best at and going for the dollars. Either way is a valid choice and I can’t blame anyone for taking either route but it struck me at the time that Jarmusch is, to my mind and with my limited exposure to the field, unique in that he seems to be making more and more commercially accessible movies like Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai, Broken Flowers and Only Lovers Left Alive (reviewed here) while at the same time making them in a way which is uniquely a part of his identity and without selling out his artistic leanings as part of the process.
On the other hand, I’m not sure how bankable he’s seen by studio heads. The opening night screening of Paterson I went to had maybe ten people in it but... he’s certainly doing a lot more things which seem to be targeted for an expanded audience expectation while still making what are, frankly, some of the more beautiful and poetic works of modern cinema. Those last three films I’ve name checked, for instance, have much less of the sense of not particularly being about anything than a lot of his earlier films did and they have a kind of story arc to them.
Paterson is no exception in that it’s both an easily accessible movie with a current top star (Adam Driver, who is pretty hot right now after playing Kilo Ren in the new Star Wars movies) and it’s also a great piece of cinema. That being said, it does putter along quietly with no clear story arc and in this way, among others, it’s reminiscent of Jarmusch’s earlier works.
The film is about a week in the life of one man, named Paterson, who lives with his girlfriend and her intimidating British bulldog. There’s no clear story arc at all... the movie comprising little incidents and highlights without building into something that even approaches a classic or even modern Hollywood sense of cause and effect film-making.
Paterson, the man, is a bus driver who lives in the town of Paterson, New Jersey and who drives a bus which says Paterson. Every day we see his internal body clock waking him up at around 6.15am and we follow parts of his day and his regular routine as he kisses his girlfriend, eats his breakfast cereal, drives his bus, composes poetry in his head for writing in his notebook on his lunch hour, walks back home, takes the dog for a walk and then leaves him tied up while he has a pint of beer at his local bar. Each day is the same routine but the beauty of it, which is part of the genius of Jim Jarmusch, is that all the little incidents and differences to each day are contrasted against each other and affect the way that the central character, and the audience, experiences Paterson’s daily journey through life. So little things that are ‘off’ slightly, like him waking up a quarter of an hour late, give us a window into his mental state, to a certain extent, or at least allows us to make deductions about him... if we're that way inclined.
Adam Driver is an actor who I really didn’t like when I saw him in Star Wars - The Force Awakens (reviewed here). He seemed to be a weak villain at first but he kind of grew on me on subsequent viewings and when I saw him again in Midnight Special (reviewed here) I realised there was more to him than I’d at first realised and that his almost understated style of playing a character might not, at first, seem the best choice for a Star Wars character but who, I suspect, will pay dividends later on in that particular branch of the saga. Here he proves himself a perfect Jarmusch actor, quietly strolling through the scenes, a lot of them played silently as they are pitched against his voice over as he tries out new balances of words and writes poetry in his head or in his diary... something which Jarmusch chooses to also illustrate via superimposed typography on screen as the words flow from Paterson’s creative mind. Yeah, this is yet another of a fair few movies this year, it seems, where the directors' have chosen to throw up text on the screen to illustrate certain things in their movie and which I’ve both moaned about and celebrated in equal measure, depending on how much they detracted or added to the immersion factor. Jarmusch, I’m glad to say, handles this element very well and it’s not at all gimmicky or distracting as it was in, say, The Shallows (reviewed here).
Paterson’s girlfriend, Laura, is played by Golshifteh Farahani who is both absolutely wonderful and adorable as a quirky, live at home companion. Each day she is up to something passionate and, possibly, damaging to Paterson’s home but she certainly has a quirky charm. She spends a lot of time painting... the walls, curtains, her dresses as she is wearing them and Paterson returns each day to some new surprise or change of scenery. There’s a beautiful design moment near the end of the movie where she has been going through a phase of painting black and white circular patterns and lines and when she is in the kitchen preparing her cup cakes for sale at a local event, the cupcakes are patterned in exactly the same kinds of monotone designs as everything else such as her dress and the walls and curtains in the kitchen. There’s a shot in here where it all comes together in an abundance of visual saturation and which we see Driver’s Paterson is fully aware of, just as we are as an audience. It’s a great little sequence and one of many beautiful little moments which make up the film.
There’s a whole host of great actors in here, of course, as you would expect from the kinds of films that Jarmusch makes... they need to be good not to stick out like a sore thumb in this kind of piece. Everyone gets a little moment to shine, not least of which are a couple of teenagers who are on Paterson’s bus. I knew they both looked really familiar but I couldn’t place them as the scene played out. It wasn’t until later, when I looked them up, that I found they were the two child leads from Wes Anderson’s excellent Moonrise Kingdom (reviewed here) and it was just so nice seeing them working again here. Three thumbs up there for a great cameo casting choice.
The film also, to a certain extent, shows Jarmusch’s... let’s say ‘fetish’... for multicultural groups of people coming together and communicating in a way which shoots through any barriers and expresses a truly post modern society of which we are all a part. Everyone seems to be speaking the same language in this one so there’s not so much of an emphasis on ‘alienation breeds communication’ as there has been in some of this director’s works but he still champions the ideal of a warm and fuzzy global society and I can only applaud him for that.
And that’s about all I’ve got to say about Paterson other than the small audience who I saw it with all seemed to love it and that many of the lighter, comedic moments in the film were, it seemed to me, well appreciated by all. And I was personally happy to find a reference to Abbot and Costello's "Who's on first" routine in this one. It’s a gentle and poetic movie which doesn’t try to hammer home any big ideas and the deftness of touch of the observations which are the building blocks of the movie will both illuminate and haunt you... staying with you, as I indicated before, long after the credits have begun to roll. Another big, hard recommend from me and another movie that proves that this particular director knows exactly what cinema is all about and is able to deliver. In other words... another Jarmusch masterpiece.