A small, cyclical film about the value of a small, cyclical life, Jim Jarmusch‘s “Paterson” is a perfect version of itself. His ode to small pleasures and the simple life comes in the form of a simple film that is a small pleasure.
With that in mind, be wary of breathlessly exuberant Cannes Film Festival buzz that will inevitably (and deservedly) follow — the feedback loop of contagious excitement runs the risk of overselling this very effective valentine to understatement.
As if he was writing a verse, Jarmusch tries to turn his film into a rhyme. In “Paterson,” Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson (New Jersey). And as with a poem, both film and character operate within a fixed structure. The film follows Paterson over a period of one week, where each day follows the same beats.
Every morning the man wakes up at 6:15 a.m., then walks his way through the outskirts of town on the way to the bus depot, where, as driver on line 23, he will spend his day weaving back through to the center. Later, he’ll have dinner with his wife, and head back out to walk his dog, ending up at the same small bar for a single beer and a lesson in local lore.
On every walk and quiet moment, Paterson writes. He writes free-form poems, inspired by sights and materials of his life. All of them, in one sense or another, are love letters to his wife (hey, if you were married to actress Golshifteh Farahani, you’d write love letters too), and all written freehand in a little pocket notebook the secret poet refuses to share with the world.
Jarmusch superimposes the words onscreen as soon as the poet comes up with them, an effect that collapse Paterson’s surroundings with Paterson’s words, suggesting that one could not exist without the other.
Indeed, they cannot. And if “artists take inspiration from their lives” sounds like a less than scintillating revelation, might I remind you this film is about the practical, intuitive, the homespun. Plus, just because the film doesn’t have an overarching Theme, that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say.
Here, and in his previous film, the vampire mood piece “Only Lovers Left Alive”, Jarmusch interrogates his own aversion to the modern age. Where the vampires were tragic romantics, literal holdovers from Better Times, Paterson is just a technology-averse Luddite.
But Paterson isn’t celebrated for that — if anything, the film is constructed as a rebuke to his thinking. The closest thing he has to an arc is recognizing the value of owning a cell phone. A small revelation, to be sure, but in perfect in context and perfect in scope for this simple, and simply wonderful, film.