“Sometimes an empty page presents more possibilities.”
Few films from 2016, or even from this decade, are as charming as Paterson. Following a-week-in-the-life narrative we join Paterson (Driver) as he goes about the routines of his life. He works as a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey – driving his daily route, listening to snippets of passenger conversation, walking to/from work, walking his dog and then stopping his local bar for his one beer. In contrast his wife Laura (Farahani) is ever changing, adopting new ambitions and projects with each day. It’s a normal life and that’s where the poetry is found, within the smallest details. It’s in the incidental moments where life can be won or lost; where no day – no matter how hard we may try – is the same as the next. Time stops for no man (or woman) so we must embrace life for all its minor eccentricities and observe the profound within the apparent mundane.
Jarmusch’s direction and script allows all of this to occur without cynicism. There’s a parallel between the film itself and its story – Jarmusch is creating art from life as is Paterson. In both cases this creation of art is told without notoriety or superiority. Paterson, and seemingly Jarmusch, make their poetry for the simple pleasure of making it. Paterson is without noble ambition or intent, he writes for himself in his ‘secret notebook’ which contains his innermost reflections. Most of these are about Laura and his love for her and their relationship is beautiful in its simplicity. Driver and Farahani work fantastically together portraying a relationship that seems almost divine in its mundanity. By abstaining from melodrama we witness a relationship that personifies the notion of mundane beauty – his routine and her wistful eccentricities are woven together quite delightfully.
All of this is told without pretension, what could be banality simply is and it is all the more engaging for it. The wry script captures the beats of everyday conversation and the humour that arises in life’s most ordinary of moments. It’s in this regard that the lead really excels. Driver’s performance is outstanding, one of cinema’s best in years. He manages to tell so much with a look or suppressed reaction and spectacularly lights up the screen with a smile. The majority of things we learn about Paterson is not told to us through dialogue but through Driver’s truly expressive performance. His meeting a young teen poet epitomises Jarmusch’s main theme of the juxtaposition of creativity and everyday life when she demonstrates surprise at a ‘bus driver who like Emily Dickinson!’ An initially throwaway-seeming comment revealing so much about misconceptions and societal expectations. That, if nothing else, sums up the film – a beautiful film that is wise and important yet ordinary and minimal reflecting on friendship and love with innate warmth.
On my way out of the BFI I walked past a security guard leaning over a fence reading a paperback. Clearly life finds a way of imitating art.
Paterson is out in UK cinemas on November 25th.
Country: United States
Year: 2016 Run time:118 minutes