November 25, 2016

Adam Driver’s Paterson will be treasured for years – review

The Telegraph / 

You’ve beheld Adam Driver as Kylo Ren; now meet Kylo Zen. In Jim Jarmusch’s new film Paterson, he plays a guy called Paterson, who happens to live in Paterson, New Jersey, his birthplace, where he drives a bus (number 23) with his surname naturally emblazoned on it.

If you met him, say, at the neighbourhood bar where he drinks a beer every night, and mentioned this coincidence, Paterson would smile, without making much of a fuss of it. He’s philosophical about most things, and not much of a talker. He listens, though. He’s quietly fascinated by humankind, eavesdropping on his passengers’ chatter – among them two teenage radicals, cameos by those fast-growing kids from Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom – as if committed to learning a little something from everyone.

He listens, and he writes – methodically composing poems in the notebook he takes to work each day. The first of these we hear starts as an ode to the form-and-function beauty of Ohio Blue Tip matches, and then evolves, by steps, into a graceful minimalist love poem. It’s delectable writing – Jarmusch makes good in his screenplay on an early ambition to be a poet, before he got into filmmaking. Paterson composes to us aloud, his handwriting flickers up on screen, and we get the idea.

This film is his life, so low-key you could think of it as a scale being played in thin air, off the left-hand end of a Steinway. It’s truly special – a breath-catching lesson in aloneness, but one that’s fond of good company, too. One-off encounters; daily coincidence; and everything that watching the world attentively can tell us.

It’s structured as precisely a week in Paterson’s life, and has a mantra-like, soft-tread rhythm: save for the weekend, every day follows the same pattern, differing only in the details. Paterson’s body clock wakes him some time between 6am and 6.30, and after snuggling briefly with his wife Laura, played by the stunning Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, he gets up.

He then walks to the bus depot, taking his time in the morning sun, past the town’s superb old warehouses and factories – a reminder that this was an early birthplace of American industry, on a site chosen by founding father Alexander Hamilton (yep, the one from the Broadway musical) near the Passaic River’s Great Falls.

After his driving shift’s over, he travels the same way back, and later in the evening he’ll walk Marvin, an eccentric British bulldog who stares and schemes at home from his trusty armchair, to that bar, where the dog’s left grumbling on the pavement, and Paterson goes in to shoot the breeze – or at least have it shot at him.

Jarmusch needs us to know that there’s another work of art called Paterson, namely the five-volume magnum opus written by William Carlos Williams in the mid 20th century – a copy of which we espy on its namesake’s desk, with those waterfalls pictured on the cover. Williams is a ghostly inspiration here, an animating mentor-figure, even if Laura keeps muddling his name up, while Paterson is far too modest to admit his own work might want publishing.

He writes for himself: down in the couple’s basement, he has a study-nook that’s a refuge for reflection, a snug for words. Upstairs feels more like Laura’s domain, in part because of her indefatigable urge to furnish it from floor to ceiling in a black-and-white colour scheme, when she’s not baking black-and-white cupcakes all day, painting monochrome stripes onto herself, or ordering a black-and-white “Harlequin” guitar off the internet.

She’s a woman of projects: on Monday she’s all about opening a cupcake shop; by Tuesday she’s dreaming of country-singer stardom again. She’s very sweetly crazy, and you can see how Paterson adores her, while gently humouring everything about her that’s as nutty as a fruitcake. Farahani’s adorably daft performance manages to avoid all the manic-pixie traps that might have sprung up beneath it – just as Paterson does, we cherish our time with Laura, and we also value a bit of sanity and space.

The film has incidents rather than plot: disruptions, minor mishaps, happy accidents. How Jarmusch takes this match-stick house of nothings and fills it with such calm and wisdom is a mystery with only one real answer: he’s an artist.

The film has its eyes and ears open. But it also has a lot to do with Driver, whose mellow charisma is hiding something. He never cries in the film, but often seems on the verge of it, finding the wavelength of this man whose equanimity, seemingly perfect, conceals a daily search for meaning that’s his alone.

Aloneness – even within this happy relationship – is his choice. And what’s consoling for us, and will honestly make this a film a treasure for years to come, is getting to partake in it. In a culture of manic oversharing, Paterson undershares – he doesn’t even have a mobile phone, let alone social media.

Like Forest Whitaker in the wonderful Ghost Dog – the earlier Jarmusch film this chimes with most, if you strip the plot away – Paterson is an island, refuting the maxim that no man is. He clings to ritual, aims to live undemonstratively and understand what’s thrown his way. He wants every day to be a blank page in the same book – one worth filling, but only with the right words. It’s an honour to know him, and a serious ache to say goodbye.

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