Accepting Simplicity: Paterson film review

The thing with independent and alternative films is that you cannot really apply the rules of the classical Hollywood narration. In “Paterson”, the new movie of American cult director Jim Jarmusch (“Broken Flowers”, “Only Lovers Left Alive”), this was what I had to remind myself of several times. Once I accepted the fact that there would be no major love, action or drama scene, I could finally enjoy the quiet and minimalistic pictures that Jarmusch so thoughtfully created.

Adam Driver (“Girls”, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) stars as the bus driver Paterson who lives in a small town in New Jersey, which is called Paterson. We observe him as he makes his way through a normal week, every day following the same pattern, save the weekend. Every morning Paterson wakes up between 6 and 6.30 am, kisses his girlfriend Laura, played by beautiful Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, and leaves for work. On his way there, we hear him writing down poems. His seemingly modest writing about the packaging of Ohio Blue Tip matches soon develops into a love poem for Laura. He drives the bus around town, snatching up parts of passengers’ conversations, returns back home and walks the English bulldog Marvin, which is adored by Laura and hated by Paterson and vice-versa. Paterson makes the grumpy dog wait outside, while he stops by his local pub, where he shortly exchanges news with the peculiar sympathetic owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) and observes the development of a relationship crisis.

As Jarmusch fans might guess, nothing really happens in this film. The music at some points arises the expectation of an accident, a fight or a scream to happen, but it ends as calmly as it started. It is the small and mostly funny details, as well as the sublime acting, that keep the viewer attentive. There is the Indian colleague of Paterson, who doesn’t seem to have understood the rhetoric in the question “How are you?”, or the lovestruck Everett who cannot accept the fact that his girlfriend wants a break-up and tries to change her mind by bringing a toy gun to the pub – by the way the only scene where the viewer could think that there actually is something going to happen. Paterson’s poems are in no terms world-changing, but they express how they are just a part of his life and, even more apparently, resemble the unpretentious works of William Carlos Williams, Paterson’s idol. He finds inspiration everywhere, for example in a girl who is waiting for her mother to pick her up near the bus garage. She also writes poems and reads them to him, until her mother arrives and he notices that she is a twin – a motive that keeps appearing throughout the whole movie but is not resolved in the end.

Friday marks the beginning of a change in Paterson’s week. He wakes up late, the bus breaks down and on Saturday night the dog has torn his notebook containing the poetry to pieces. Devastated and close to tears, Paterson decides to spend Sunday on his own and goes for a walk to his favourite place, a waterfall in the town. There he meets a Japanese tourist who also writes poetry and who gives him an empty notebook at the end of the conversation.

Yet, for all the director’s skills and interesting details, it is a rather tedious movie that doesn’t really achieve to answer all the occurring questions about themes and character motivations. Although having been highly praised for her acting, Farahani couldn’t actually convince of being a caring girlfriend. Her naivety was rather annoying and made her appear unsuited for the quiet and lonesome Paterson. Nonetheless, the clear and simple images, as well as the surprisingly good secondary characters (hip hop fans will have noticed Method Man’s cameo appearance), make it a nice, quiet movie – but without eating popcorn, please.


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