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From American indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, the man behind Only Lovers Left Alive, Coffee and Cigarettes and Down by Law, Paterson — an unclassifiable film — is an understated but honestly felt ode to everyday poetry — literally.

Adam Driver (Inside Llewyn Davis, the Star Wars franchise, TV’s Girls) brings his soulful face and quiet, indelible presence to the role of a bus driver from Paterson, N.J., who also happens to be named Paterson. Every day he drives his route, loves his wife, walks his dog, visits his local bar and writes odd, affecting little poems.

Jarmusch follows Paterson’s fixed routine over a seven-day stretch, and — except for a minor bus breakdown and one small domestic disaster — that’s pretty much it.

With its utter lack of interest in plot-driven momentum or dramatic conflict, Paterson isn’t for everyone. But neither is it some art-house endurance test. This offbeat project is actually very engaging, bringing droll humour and sweet-hearted feeling to its low-key affirmation of ordinary life.

Jarmsuch’s patient eye and unhurried concentration really work with this slow pace and modest scale. Repetition actually becomes part of the pleasure, as we wait once more for Paterson’s shift supervisor to complain about his troubles or for Marvin the dog to stare plaintively. (Marvin is played by the late English bulldog Nellie, who gets third billing in the credits and received a posthumous "Golden Collar" award at Cannes for her suitably Jarmuschian work, which is both woefully sad-sack and deadpan funny. She died of cancer after filming wrapped.)

While the mundane content of Paterson might feel familiar, the film actually offers four things that are rarely seen in cinema.

MONGREl MEDIA</p><p>Adam Driver plays the title character in the offbeat drama Paterson.</p>

MONGREl MEDIA

Adam Driver plays the title character in the offbeat drama Paterson.

First off, Paterson shows ordinary blue-collar work. You know, actual labour. We follow Paterson’s route as he drives his big, lumbering bus past the town’s shopfronts and schoolyards. We eavesdrop on his passengers, who range from ardent young anarchists to guys bragging nervously about women.

The film also focuses on a happy marriage, a seldom-seen thing in cinema, which prefers the down-and-dirty drama of marital misery.

Paterson’s relationship with his daffy and enthusiastic wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), is a beautifully wrought portrait of reliable married love. Jarmusch carefully records the dozens of small gestures and words that make up the daily expression of a happy relationship.

As well, the film depicts a racially and ethnically mixed working-class neighbourhood that might just be a good place to live. Paterson’s streets are poor, but there’s no "American carnage" here. Instead, there’s Jarmsuch’s love of the gritty and worn-down, the overlooked and abandoned. Only in Jarmusch’s world do we find a bar without TV screens — play some chess, why don’t you! — or a movie theatre that shows the 1932 classic Island of Lost Souls.

Last but absolutely not least, the film is interested in poetry. It’s hard to see that double Paterson moniker and not think of the modernist poet William Carlos Williams, who worked as a doctor in a nearby town and wrote an experimental five-volume epic poem titled Paterson.

Paterson himself sits next to Paterson Falls during his lunch break, staring at the gush of water that once powered the city’s industrial growth, while scrawling poems in his notebook. He walks by a guy at a laundromat who’s honing his lyrics while quoting the city’s best-known bard ("No ideas but in things.") He meets a poetic schoolgirl and a Japanese poet on a Paterson pilgrimage.

And of course, there’s the cinematic poetry of the film itself, a two-hour distillation of craft, creativity and miraculous observation.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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