Paterson (2016) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A bus driver poet in Paterson

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Several days ago, I went to the Iksan campus of Chonbuk National University for meeting several colleagues of my previous workplace. After meeting them and then having a little chat with them, I waited outside for a bus to the main campus in Jeonju for a few minutes, and that was during that brief time when I happened to notice something interesting. It was merely a plain campus field in broad daylight, but I could not help but spot the centrical composition glimpsed from that sight, so I instantly photographed it. While the photograph looks less magical now, I still remember what I felt during that time, and I will probably cherish that experience for years from now.

When I watched Jim Jarmusch’s latest film “Paterson”, I was quite delighted to find that the movie contains such small but memorable moments like that. Looking around the seemingly plain daily life of its sensitive, introverted hero, the movie effortlessly presents a good number of poetic scenes accompanied with dry humor and heartfelt beauty, and it is engrossing to watch how these beautiful moments lead to sublime artistic creation in one way or another.

The movie begins with its hero and his wife beginning another week of their simple daily life. Paterson (Adam Driver) is a young man working as a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, and he lives with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their bulldog in their cozy house. After waking up early and having a bowl of cereal for breakfast, he walks to a bus garage, and we see him driving a bus around the downtown areas of the city. After his working hour is over, he walks back to his house, and then, after having a dinner with Laura, he goes outside with their bulldog for walk. During the walk, he drops by a local bar run by a middle-aged black guy named Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), and he always drinks no more than one glass of beer. Observing this routine of his repeated over the following weekdays, we gather that he has stuck to it for years and has no problem with that.

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Whenever he is not working, Paterson usually focuses on his poems, which are often inspired by small and big things he comes across during his daily routine. While driving his bus, he sometimes listens to the conversations of passengers sitting near him. At his workplace, his co-worker frequently tells him how he feels miserable as before due to his numerous family problems. During his solitary lunch time, he eats his lunch at the Great Falls of the Passaic River and appreciates its beauty alone for a while. At Doc’s bar, he and Doc spend time together as talking about many things including Lou Costello, who is incidentally one of famous figures from the City of Paterson.

Paterson has kept all of his poems in his private notebook, and he has not shown them to anyone except Laura. Laura thinks he should publish his poems someday, but he is reluctant about that. He is simply content with writing poems for himself and, sometimes, Laura as usual, and it is interesting to see how he and Laura complement each other in terms of personality and attitude. More extroverted than him in comparison, Laura openly shows her artistic sensibility through her lovely black and white interior design of their house, and this unpretentiously sweet woman is also willing to try something new and different unlike her husband. For instance, she gladly makes heaps of her special chocolate cupcakes for a local bazaar, and she also tries to be a guitar player at one point just because, well, she feels compelled to do that.

Steadily maintaining its leisurely narrative pace, the movie slips some notable changes into Paterson’s daily routine. At one point, he encounters a young girl who is as passionate about poetry as him, and we get a small touching moment when she shows him a poem she is currently working on. When his bus is suddenly stalled on the road for an unspecified problem, he calmly handles the situation, but, to our amusement, he experiences little inconvenience because of his detachment toward modern technology. Later in the movie, he decides to go outside along with his wife for a change, but that results in an unexpected incident which can be regarded as the sole dramatic happening in the film.

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The movie is basically in the realm of fantasy considering Paterson and Laura’s comfortably insular environment, but Jarmusch and his cinematographer Frederick Elmes fill the background of the film with the vivid, realistic sense of place and people. While the locations in the movie look mundane on the screen at first, we come to appreciate their humble beauty, and we can really sense what inspires Paterson in addition to the works of his favorite poet William Carlos Williams and other poets. Although I am usually pretty oblivious to the beauty of poetry, I can say that Peterson’s poems in the film, which are written by still-loving poet Ron Padgett, are pretty good in their plain, direct words, and I was actually impressed by their aesthetic quality (my favorite poem is the one inspired by some fancy match brand, by the way).

As the heart and soul of the movie, Adam Driver, who has been a performer to watch since he drew my attention for the first time through his breakout turn in HBO TV series “Girls”, gives a wonderfully nuanced performance, which masterfully conveys his character’s glimmering artistic spirit to us without any excessive touch. While he and his co-star Golshifteh Farahani have nice understated chemistry between them, several notable supporting performers including Barry Shabaka Henley, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Method Man have their own moments around Driver, and the special mention must go to that adorable bulldog in the movie, which deservedly won the Palm Dog Award at the Cannes Film Festival in last year.

Although I was initially not so enthusiastic about Jarmusch’s films, I have admired his notable works including “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (1999), “Coffee and Cigarettes” (2003), “Broken Flowers” (2005) and “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013). Maybe because I have come to accept and enjoy his own style and wit, I was entertained by “Paterson” far more than expected, and I belatedly agree with others that this is indeed one of the best films in 2016.

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