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2016 London Film Festival Review: Paterson

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Paterson

Paterson

Jim Jarmusch’s cinema has never been renowned to draw mainstream audiences yet here’s to hope that casting one of Hollywood’s hottest new stars in the lead role of his latest effort will auspiciously attract the attention of a wider public, and deservedly so, since Paterson is nothing short of a cinematic gem.

Adam Driver of Star Wars (and HBO’s Girls) fame plays the title character – a bus driver who also happens to live in the small town of Paterson, New Jersey. However, being named after his hometown isn’t a mere gimmick in the spirit of the film’s understated humour. As we get to know our protagonist, we realise that Paterson’s heavily routine-centric life is so embedded in the small town’s rhythms that the filmmaker’s choice feels thematically emblematic.

Our bus driver in fact is also a poet, or at least he tries to be and that’s the whole point of the film and of Paterson’s journey – the eternal dilemma for all of us with an artistic vein who hope to eventually make a living out of it. In fairness, such dilemma digs even deeper as it taps into realising a more universal sense of one’s self-worth and meaning in life. Having any sort of talent to believe in with a career in mind is sort of an amplification of those feelings.

The question here is whether or not Paterson considers himself to be a poet. His loving and endearingly petulant wife has no doubt about his talent and keeps insisting for his work to be shared with the world. But who hasn’t been there? Having a friend or a loved one trying convince you how talented you are and how you have to to go for it isn’t really what self-doubting artists need. Don’t get me wrong, familial support is helpful and you don’t want to be drowning in the cynicism of those who are too pragmatic to see any future in your artistic aspirations – maybe they’re just bitter cause it didn’t work out for them or they weren’t brave enough to try.

Yet, when it comes to validation, something we all seek out and not just in relation to artistic talent, only those with actual relevance to the field in question have the power to comfort us and boost our confidence a bit. Jarmusch does a wonderful job at capturing such complex feelings with the mood of this delightful piece of film-making whilst Adam Driver couldn’t be any more perfect at conveying all those emotions in a powerfully subtle and understated way.

Paterson’s narrative unravels with the monotonous beats of everyday life, following each day of a typical week in the life of this amateur poet who actually defies his amateur status from the start, showing passion and commitment to finding time to write every day, no matter where he is, both listening to inspiration when it strikes or simply making a routine out of discipline.

One day he notices a box of matches whilst having cereal at the breakfast bar in the early morning quietness of his living room and he promptly jots down verses. Paterson observes the world around him on his walk to the bus garage, jots down more verses in the driver’s seat whilst getting ready to take off for his shift and pays acute attention to the passengers on his rides. He always takes his lunch sitting on a bench by a spot with a spectacular view of a bridge over a dam where he also happens to write verses. But he doesn’t really like to talk about his poetry.

His wife Laura is the exact opposite – whilst Paterson’s quiet and reserved personality is hard to shake, she is a force of nature always trying something new in order to fill her housewifing days. Golshifteh Farahani is extremely entertaining in this role, providing a funny counterbalance to Driver’s overly serene character. She is restless, chatty and relentless in pursuing new creative endeavours every day, whether it’s making dresses, curtains or whatever else with the same ridiculous patterns, baking cupcakes for the farmers’ market or learning guitar to become a country sensation.

Between her idiosyncrasies and those of the couple’s adorable English bulldog (a third character in this nuclear family), there’s plenty to smile about in what comes across as a charming ode to the beauty of everyday life and to its myriad of possibilities. That’s probably what strikes the most by the time credits roll – no matter how mundane our lives can be, every day is a new window of opportunities and we need to understand what we want out of it and have the courage to pursue it, though that can be scary and overwhelming.

The best thing the film does is to avoid pontificating about what’s the lesson to be learned here. There are people with artistic talent who don’t care about fame and fortune and are perfectly content with just dedicating their down time to such passions. There are those solely focused on making a career of out it to the point of sacrificing other aspects of their life but as with everything else, there is also an in-between. The film surely underlines that nobody can tell you what you’re supposed to do, even when they try. The hardest part is figuring out what you want and truly commit to it. Both Jarmusch and Driver have amply proven they’ve made their choices and we couldn’t be more inspired by them.

5-out-of-5

Paterson is out in UK cinemas on November 25th.

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