Combustible Celluloid
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With: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Rizwan Manji, Barry Shabaka Henley, Trevor Parham, Troy T. Parham, Brian McCarthy, Frank Harts, Luis Da Silva Jr., Chasten Harmon, William Jackson Harper, Method Man, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Sterling Jerins, Masatoshi Nagase
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 111
Date: 12/27/2016

Paterson (2016)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Full Circles

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Watching Jim Jarmusch's last film, Only Lovers Left Alive, I realized that I like his films better with less talking. This is not to imply that Jarmusch can't write dialogue. It's just that he tends to say more with less. His quieter films — Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, Mystery Train, Dead Man, Ghost Dog, and Broken Flowers — tend to be better than his talkier ones, like Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes, etc. (We will have to leave The Limits of Control up for debate.) Now comes another quiet one, and I'd rank Paterson among his very best films. It's a treasure, and the best American film of 2016.

Adam Driver stars as Paterson, who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. He is never called by any other name, and, though the coincidence is sometimes remarked upon, it's not given any particular weight. It just is. He does two things. He drives a city bus, and writes poetry. He narrates the poetry, and it also appears onscreen as Paterson writes, slowly, as he thinks of it, and at the rhythm of pen on paper. (The poems are apparently by Ron Padgett, though Paterson himself is a fan of William Carlos Williams, also from Paterson, NJ.) At the end of each day, he comes home to a bulldog called Marvin, and to his significant other Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, from Chicken with Plums and About Elly); the movie never says whether they're married or just living together, and it's not important.

Paterson is a man of routine. There's a wonderful joke wherein he fixes his tilted mailbox every day. But he's also observant. He looks and listens for things. He admires the design on a book of matches and it inspires a poem. But passengers on his bus are equally fascinating, from their conversations to their shoes. After work, he takes Marvin for a walk, parks him outside a bar and goes inside for a drink. There, he sees and listens, and sometimes speaks, to the same patrons, each of whom has their own problems.

Meanwhile, Laura is also artistic, but less focused. Her art comes in great spurts, like bubbles. She has decorated the house in black and white, with many circle patterns. (Circles are important here.) She makes cupcakes and orders a new guitar so that she can be a country singer. She's flighty, but Jarmusch seems to have deep adoration for her; she maintains a positive attitude, and she frequently gushes forth with great love for whatever is happening in her world.

Paterson takes place over the course of a week, leading up to a weekend, at which time Laura goes to the market to sell her cupcakes, and then the couple goes to the movies to see an old black-and-white horror film, Island of Lost Souls, which, weirdly somehow manages to fit in with the rest of Paterson's design. I kept worrying that the deeply peaceful, thoughtful spell cast by Paterson would be broken by the coming of the final act, but Jarmusch continues to balance everything beautifully. There's a moment that comes near the end that made me gasp, but it's all part of a grand plan.

Going back to the idea of circles. Circles are shown everywhere in Paterson, and many things and events repeat themselves, and the sameness is just as important as the variations. Like one of his favorite directors, Yasujiro Ozu, Jarmusch finds a certain kind of peace in the acceptance of life in all its ups and downs. One of Paterson's co-workers is constantly complaining about his life, his family, money, etc., while Paterson never complains. It's not clear if he's happy, exactly, but he is peaceful. He seems to have found some kind of profound secret having to do with simplicity and observation.

A film critic friend said out loud what Paterson left me feeling; this is a world I'd like to live in, or at least retire to. It contains many little treats, from a tribute to Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom to a tribute to the Wu Tang-Clan. It also seems to be an antidote for the current political climate, which, no matter what side you're on, there is a general feeling of hopelessness in the air. This movie cuts out much of the noise that seems so important, and replaces it with a kind of tranquility, a flag of truce against the times, a retreat into the small, quiet beauty in a place. Of course, this solves nothing, and as we leave this Paterson in Paterson, the search goes on, but maybe the search itself is enough.

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