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Sunday, 5 February 2017

Movie review: Paterson, dir Jim Jarmusch (2016)

Nothing much happens in the lives of Paterson (Adam Driver) a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, and his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). While he gets up every morning without an alarm clock at almost exactly the same time - he says there is something special about his watch - she stays at home and paints everything black and white (her favourite colour combination). They have a routine life but they support each other and love each other, and therefore also have a rich and full life. A night out at the black-and-white movies is something to celebrate.

Paterson's poetry - which he captures in a notebook with an elastic catch on the cover - is also something to celebrate for Laura, and she takes every opportunity to tell him what a great poet he is. Paterson is content. Even when Laura's bulldog Marvin eats his notebook he doesn't get angry. But after that happens we know he will continue to write because a stranger in the park who Paterson meets one day gives him a new notebook as a gift. (The stranger, a Japanese man, had come to Paterson because of his love of the poetry of William Carlos Williams, who had lived in Paterson while alive. Williams is Paterson's favourite poet.)

While nothing much happens, the things that do happen seem to have a meaning beyond their immediate significance. When Paterson meets a child who is sitting outside - he thinks he should wait with her until her mother returns to take her home - it turns out she is also a poet, and she reads a piece of her poetry to him. He takes home the first few lines and recites them for Laura.

Laura is busy with her own things, too. She bakes cupcakes for the local farmer's market, and makes a big stack of money. She also gets Paterson to buy her a guitar so that she can become a country-and-Western singer. She has dreams. Meanwhile, Paterson finds that having a mobile phone would sometimes be an asset when his bus inexplicably breaks down while he is out on his route, and he has to borrow someone else's phone to call back to base for help. He might have a stack of poetry books on his bookshelf in the basement, but he doesn't have a mobile. Paterson is a bit odd that way.

He's also odd in the way, each evening when he takes Marvin for a walk, he stops at the bar for a beer. At the bar we meet other people in Paterson's life, such as Everett (William Jackson Harper), who is in love with Marie (Chasten Harmon) although she doesn't reciprocate his affections. He also meets Everett one day when he is taking a walk in the afternoon, when he doesn't have anything on his plate. Everett is something of a philosopher, unlike Donny (Rizwan Manji), who checks off Paterson every morning before he starts his rounds. Donny always has problems at home that he complains about to people. Paterson has Laura at home and he never complains.

What the movie does so well however is to slow things down to a snail's rate of progress. We notice each smile and display of intimacy or dislike. We are drawn into this shadow-play of tiny gestures and our hearts almost start to beat at a more sedate pace. This is a film out of the ordinary. Most films these days hep us up to a high state of excitement with their special effects and explosions. This movie does the complete opposite, so when the Japanese stranger appears at the end we are primed for the explosion of emotion we feel as Paterson denies he is a poet. This doesn't put the stranger off his quest for meaning, however, as he works to experience what it signifies to be a poet in New Jersey.

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