Genre: Comedy, Drama
Indie auteur Jim Jarmusch’s new film is about a man called Paterson, who lives in Paterson and drives the Paterson bus. It follows a week in Paterson’s life as he gets up, goes to work, comes home etc. It may sound uninteresting, but Paterson’s ultra-laid-back style and quiet observation of daily life is a perfect antithesis to the blockbuster chaos and is extremely satisfying.
We can all learn something from Paterson. His life, really, isn’t too great. He’s stuck in a dead end job and he lives with his oh too quirky girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), endlessly changing her mind about what she wants to do with her life. But he’s unbelievably Zen. As Joe Strummer once said, the mark of a good film is when you come out of it and everybody is acting like the main character – like when you come out of Taxi Driver and everyone’s got their head down like Travis Bickle. It’s been over a week since I watched Paterson and I’m still trying to incorporate Paterson’s Zen into my life. The poems he writes are beautiful, the way he treats everyone is sound. Even when things go wrong (which they inevitably do), he deals with the situations calmly and practically. But at the same time, one wonders how he ended up in this situation. Why hasn’t this great man achieved greater things? Why do his poems never even leave his ‘secret notebook’? It’s an intriguing character study.
At the same time, Paterson is also a study of the city, Paterson. Paterson drives us through it, yes, but he takes care to observe his surroundings when he’s not at work too – his favourite spot at the waterfall, for example. When Paterson is driving the bus, Jarmusch cuts to the passengers, and we observe their clumsy or revealing conversations – ‘I wonder if there are any other anarchists in Paterson.’ ‘Besides us? I doubt it.’ In one scene, Paterson stops walking the dog as he passes the launderette to listen to a young man practising his rapping inside. He waits for the man to finish his verse and shows his respect. It’s a sweet and chilled out moment that we feel privileged to have witnessed.
Gluing it all together is Paterson‘s wonderful sense of humour. Picture this: a man is crying on the bar, overreacting after his girlfriend has broken up with him. The barman says, ‘you should be an actor’. The man pauses, and then blankly moans, ‘actually, I am an actor.’ Paterson tries to stifle his laughter, but you can see him about to burst. It reminds me of myself during the screening, trying to hold in my laughter just because it’s not a Hollywood designated ‘funny part’ – but the truth is the whole thing just reeks of funny. And it’s not just the dialogue; Jarmusch knows how to subtly use the camera to make us laugh. Like pulling off a simple but effective visual gag by just cutting back and forth between the dog and paintings of the dog on the wall.
Perhaps the sub-plot involving a couple Paterson knows isn’t quite as good as the main story. And sometimes you wonder whether perhaps Paterson and Laura’s lack of chemistry could be put down to a lack of chemistry in the actors rather than purposeful character flaws. But for the most part, you can forget about all that. Paterson is one of the freshest and most understated (almost) masterpieces of the year.