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Review: Paterson – “A film about love, compassion, community and understanding”

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Paterson

Jim Jarmusch films do not commonly exist divergent from our reality; while he can make a western (Dead Man), a Gothic vampire tale (Only Lovers Left Alive) or an assassin flick (Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai), Jarmusch is forever engaged in a dialogue with our real-world culture, either in awe of artistic idols or pejorative of crass commercial trends. The cowboy recites William Blake; the assassin likes to read Mary Shelly; the vampire is a cultural aficionado. All function as an autobiographical conduit for Jarmusch’s adoration of culture.

His new character, Paterson, played brilliantly by Adam Driver, continues this trend. He’s a bus driver working in the post-industrial town of Paterson, New Jersey, and he happens to be a modernist poet. Rather than actively seek to leave an imprint on the world, Paterson allows the world to leave an imprint on him. He is observational, stoic, laconic and sensitive, something that enables him to write poetry prolifically. With no interest in publishing his work and achieving fame, his absolute lack of ambition is endearing; while most seek to exploit talent for commercial gain, Paterson composes poetry as routinely as he completes his day shift. The point is clear: art serves a purpose; it is not a means nor an economy.

Living alongside Paterson in their humble abode is his monochrome-obsessed girlfriend Laura, portrayed by a vivacious Golshifteh Farahani, and their grumpy bulldog Marvin. Laura’s interests are more fleeting, but she shares a similar penchant for creative expression and compassion that allows the on-screen couple to share what feels like genuine love. The plot is thus: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday – a working week in the life of an delectable couple. Naturally, as we expect in a cinema predominately driven by Todorovian equilibrium-disequilibrium-equilibrium narrative structure, there is tension in anticipating a disruption of the utopia established and the routine we observe over the course of a week. Perhaps any cracks in Paterson and Laura’s relationship will unfurl? But no such crack occurs; Jarmusch subverts our expectations continually. When a joy-rider pulls up and warns Paterson that his expensive dog is at risk of getting stolen within these dark, urban streets, the audience thinks this is the natural precursor to the act in question. But it turns out this is just a friendly warning, genuine community concern as the young man drives away. This isn’t a film about hate and division, it is a film about love, compassion, community and understanding. As idealistic as this is, it is an outstanding achievement that these sentiments never land false, feeling only ever truthful.

Only Lovers Left Alive, as brilliant as it was, made culture the fetish product of collectors and aficionados. In Paterson, Jarmusch brings it back to the streets for the proletariat who speak in a demotic manner but express themselves in a profound one. This is a world populated by fellow creative thinkers, not just Paterson – a rapper (Method Man) constructing lyrical compositions as he waits for his laundry, a precocious young girl who reads her beautiful poem ‘Water Falls’, and a Japanese man on a pilgrimage to see the birthplace of poet William Carlos Williams, Paterson’s own chief influence.

When not working, Paterson is walking the dog and stopping by the local bar each evening for a single beer. With predominately black clientele, the proprietor Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) features a Patersonian wall-of-fame, including the likes of Iggy Pop, Allen Ginsberg, Lou Costello and Rubin “Hurricane” Cater. The town functions as an influential atmosphere; a sense of community, belonging and pride in the community is palpable, evoking a Bruce Springsteen ballad with its New Jersey topography. More so, Paterson feels like a tonal and emotional predecessor of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, of Tokyo Story (1953) and Late Spring (1949). There is a similar transcendentalism in the banality of routine; because of Paterson’s orderly lifestyle there is time and space for poetic thought. In its simplicity and calm, there exists a zen tranquillity functioning as an antidote to the complexity of everyday modern living and the current socio-political trends. Jarmusch’s latest film serves the same function as a meditation session, or a mind-altering drug, by suggesting new ways of perceiving the world and conveying an Arcadian euphoria. Paterson is, quite simply, a discreet masterpiece.

5-out-of-5

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