Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Masatoshi Nagase.
Independent filmmaker and auteur Jim Jarmusch is something of an acquired taste and his languidly paced, usually slow moving and often oblique films do not hold broad appeal. His films are often melancholy and focus more on mood rather than narrative drive. There is a melancholy tone and deadpan style to much of his work (Broken Flowers, Lost In Translation, etc). He has directed films that nominally embrace a number of different genres, such as his unconventional and bleak western Dead Man and the quirky vampire tale Only Lovers Left Alive, but they were shaped by his idiosyncratic style. And one is never quite sure where Jarmusch is taking us with his films.
This is certainly true of his latest film Paterson, a slow moving and deceptively simple but insightful slice of life character study that follows a week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. A genuinely unaffected character he is also an aspiring poet with a gift for observing the beauty of the world around him. He shares an idyllic relationship with his more artistic wife Laura (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, who we saw in Body Of Lies, etc), something of a free spirit and dreamer who has a passion for creating cup cakes. His is a rather mundane routine existence in which little of note happens. As he drives the same route everyday Paterson listens to the conversations of his passengers and composes his free form poetry during his lunch breaks. In a nice touch Jarmusch shows the words of his poetry flowing across the screen. Laura encourages him to write his poems down in a notebook so that he can share them.
There is a lack of drama or tension here, as Paterson is a gentle character study, albeit one set against the backdrop of the small but realistic details of everyday life. Jarmusch is a keen observer of those small moments and little details that make up Paterson’s life, and he shows us that beauty can be found in even the smallest moments of everyday routine. The film is suffused with lots of typically quirky touches. Jarmusch fills the narrative with interesting characters and small diversions, such as the preponderance of twins that he sees during his daily travels, that capture our interest. The dialogue comprises lengthy pauses and seemingly offhand remarks that come across as natural and almost unscripted.
Cinematographer Frederick Elmes (Broken Flowers, Blue Velvet, etc) captures striking images of Paterson’s daily rhythm and that of the town of Paterson itself. His lyrical camerawork gives us a strong flavour of the setting, and the film is a love letter to this blue collar neighbourhood. Elmes’ compositions and use of colours are deliberate and striking.
This is an understated but solid performance from Driver, who is better known for playing the awkward, taciturn character in the tv series Girls, but he has stretched his range with films like Midnight Special and Inside Llewyn Davis. His quiet, introspective and reflective performance here ranks as amongst his best work on screen. Barry Shabaka Henley brings a droll touch to his role as Doc, the friendly bar tender who serves up some sage observations. Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase, who appeared in Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, contributes a small cameo as a Japanese poet who briefly connects with Paterson in a quiet scene.
I especially liked Marvin, Paterson’s scene stealing pet British bulldog, who brought a nice quirky touch to the material.
Paterson is a lovingly made, warm character study, and while it may be one of Jarmusch’s better films it won’t appeal to a mainstream audience.