Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 7:41 pm 
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Magic of the quotidian

Paterson both is and isn't a typical Jim Jarmusch film. It has little touches that are distinctively his. His hermetic onscreen world, infuriating to some, is present here, notable in the controlled environment and repetitive structure. But this isn't a wry comedy with a hipster angle. It has its little running jokes, but on the whole it's deadpan. It's more like a little study in the nature of everyday life. It's humble. It's rather zen. It's organized into chapters, each one a day, chronicling a week or so in its characters' lives. It's a quiet tale of life and art, and also most certainly of love. Like most movies where nothing happens, it's hard to describe. It has hardly any big incidents (maybe two medium ones, one of which is, admittedly, a shocker), but there is a multiplicity of small ones. What they add up to is revelation and quiet pleasure.

Its protagonist is a modest man, a humble working-class guy. But he's a quiet giant. He may have the answers, but he would not boast of that. And he's a poet, of sorts. Every day he adds to the little fund of free verses he has penned into "secret notebook" he takes with him to work. He is a bus driver (played by Adam Driver). His name is Paterson. To make it simpler (and more hermetic, more like a poem) he also lives in Paterson (New Jersey), the home of the notable American poet, William Carlos Williams, who wrote a long poem, published over time in five volumes, called Paterson. (Allen Ginsberg also came from Paterson.) On the front of the bus he drives the destination reads simply, "Paterson."

Paterson has a live-in girlfriend, Laura. Laura and Paterson are in love. When he wakes up beside her every work day at a little past six he looks at her lovingly, kisses her, and they exchange sweet words. Laura is played by the beautiful, multi-lingual actress, Golshifteh Farahani (who's already delivered impeccable performances in Farsi-, French-, and English-language films). As Laura discovers, the Italian poet Petrarch, who perfected the sonnet, wrote a famous poem sequence dedicated to a beloved named "Laura." She thinks Paterson is a fine poet, and she wants him at least to copy the poems, which exist now only in his notebook.

Paterson's Laura is a creative homebody, in the house most days with Marvin, their English bulldog. When he comes home from work Paterson takes Marvin for a walk, in the course of which he tethers Marvin and stops at a bar whose black owner (Barry Shabaka Henley) is named Doc. At the bar he drinks a beer and talks of this and that with Doc and the occasional customer. We learn, for instance, that the most famous citizen of Paterson was the comic Lou Costello (of Abbot and), and there's a park named after him there. Paterson also has a waterfall, and Paterson and Laura have a little picture of it on their wall.

Every day at work Paterson sees Donny (Rizwan Manji), an Indian-born colleague who has lots of complaints. When he asks Paterson how he is, Adam invariably answers, "I'm okay." On the bus, he overhears conversations among passengers, including a young couple who consider themselves the only anarchists in the town. When Paterson gets home, carrying his lunch pail, he pulls the mail out of the mailbox. It's always tilted askew on its pike, and he straightens it. One of the best visual jokes is connected with this.

Laura loves black and white, and has painted and decorated the house with circular designs in those colors. She has two big (for her) projects that develop during the week. One is baking cupcakes for a farmers market on Saturday. They are decorated in different circular patterns of black on white. The other is to become a country singer. This requires her to send away for a guitar and DVDs of guitar lessons. The guitar is called the Harlequin. It's decorated in black and white. When they go to a movie, it's black and white - The Island of Doctor Moreau, with Charles Laughton. (Jarmusch's classic early films were also, of course, black and white.)

But all these details are banalities - except perhaps Paterson's poems: but they too tend to the banal. They're in flat, ordinary language, and they chronicle the quotidian. But they are written by a real poet, Ron Padgett, 74, a poet of the New York school, referred to in the movie (they also resemble those of William Carlos Williams). As Paterson composes them in his mind and writes them down in his notebook, the text appears across the screen.

Toward the end, Paterson suffers a setback, but he moves forward.

Essential to the success of this film is the performance of Adam Driver in the lead. Recently Driver has emerged as an actor of note: The NYFF devoted "An Evening With. . ." to him, as to Kristen Stewart, also much noted of late (she was in three 2016 NYFF films). Driver was in the Lena Dunham series "Girls" from 2012 and has been in films by the Coens, Noah Baumbach, and Jeff Nichols. Currently he is also in Scorsese's Silence beside Andrew Garfield, and he's in "Star Wars." His odd gawky face, tall, broad-shouldered body, deep voice help underline an openness and appeal that have never been better displayed before Paterson where he achieves an understated purity that is most appealing and, one might say, instructive.

The effect of Paterson is, and is intended to be, to celebrate the poetry of everyday life, focused in Paterson and Laura's love for each other, and their happiness with their ordinary days. Its repetition of days is like a series of stanzas and refrains. The film itself is a poem, and in its repetitiousness and bold simplicity Jarmusch has achieved something beautiful. At the time of its Cannes Competition showing, the Nouvelle Observateur critic Pascal Merigeau called it "an absolute marvel."

Paterson, 118 mins., debuted at Cannes 2016, to acclaim, and shown at at least 26 other international festivals including Toronto, New York, Mill Valley and London. US theatrical release began 28 Dec. 2016. Its current Metacritic rating is 90%. Screened for this review on its opening day in San Francisco at the Landmark Embarcadero Cinemas, 6 Jan. 2017.


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