By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Jim Jarmusch, the king of indie film, returns with Paterson – a film about a bus driving poet named Paterson in the small poetic town of… Paterson, New Jersey. Jarmusch captures the monotony and charm of small town life, as well as the eccentric characters that make for some lovely poetry.
Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver with a love and talent for poetry living with his artistic wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and his English bulldog Marvin. We spend a week in the life of Paterson and peruse the wonderfully eccentric persons of the town, and the general ups and downs of life, all of which bleed into Paterson’s poetry notebook.
Being a Jarmusch film, there is no sense of urgency here. Paterson is first and foremost a character study on Paterson, Laura and Marvin – three powerful personalities dealing with the rat race of every day life. The film is presented in daily chapters, each one beginning with the couple in bed and Paterson going to work, while Laura stays at home gradually turning their house into a black and white art gallery with her obsessive painting, and Marvin sits on an armchair grunting for attention.
Related: Jim Jarmusch films at Kino Aero
This is probably the best performance of Driver’s career so far. There’s something about his face that is just so versatile. He can be virtually anyone, and his awkward expressions of this lovable introvert are brilliant. Paterson uses the sights and sounds of the town to fill up his notebook, which we frequently see handwritten across the screen through beautiful montages and with an ethereal soundtrack by SQÜRL (Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan). Paterson is the ultimate people watcher and like a curious a school boy, right down to his retro metal lunchbox. His wife however, is the polar opposite.
Laura is an ambitious, and for the most part, annoying young artist with a passion for black and white circles and squiggles of all shapes and sizes. She over-externalises her artistic talents which seem rather trivial compared to Paterson’s poetry. Clearly, Laura is more concerned with herself, whereas Paterson is fascinated by his surroundings and finds comfort in steady routine.
But one of the most pivotal characters is Marvin the dog. In many ways, Marvin is the writer and director of this story and influences Paterson in so many ways. He introduces characters and provides a sense of imbalance but also direction in Paterson’s daily routine. Without Marvin, he would struggle to find decent material and inspiration for his work. I’ve never seen an animal play such a significant and provocative role in a film… All Hail, Marvin!
The bus sequences were by far my favourite in the film. Being an avid people watcher, I love a good eavesdrop. The chit-chat among the passengers is so regular, but so charming and gives a nod to an earlier Jarmusch film, Coffee and Cigarettes. Plus, Driver took a bus driving course in Queens, which he said was a ‘fucking nightmare’. I can’t even drive a car so kudos to you, Adam.
This isn’t the first time Jarmusch has referenced great works of poetry in his films. In Dead Man, the poet William Blake was often mentioned, and it was also the name of the lead character played by Johnny Depp. There seems to be a pattern here? In Paterson there are multiple references to the poem also called ‘Paterson’ by William Carlos Williams who wrote the poem about the real life town in New Jersey. The bar in the film also has a wall covered in newspaper clippings highlighting great things and visitors to the town, including Iggy Pop – another Jarmusch regular.
This is a great film and is up there with Jarmusch’s others in terms of its minimalism and characters. The poetry is also beautiful and a pleasure to listen to when read by Driver – all poems are originally by Ron Padget (one of Jarmusch’s favourite poets) and taken from his collected works.
Paterson will be released on January 5th in the Czech Republic, but has a special New Year’s Eve screening as a part of Kino Aero’s Jarmusch programme starting late December.