Monday, May 22, 2017


In the midst of my film viewing, it was quite a relief to see 2016's PATERSON.  Truly a "balm" as one critic described.  A palate cleanser, if you will, for the hosts of other movies that are self consciously concerned with portent, foreshadowing, significant dialogue, and all those silly rules we've been taught are integral to storytelling.  Sometimes if you introduce a gun in the first act, you don't have to shoot somebody in the third.

Example: Paterson (Adam Driver) is walking his dog, an English bulldog named Marvin, just like every other night.  A carload of what appear to be gang members stop and make ominous statements about how a guy needs to be careful walking such a coveted pooch around the 'hood.  Someone might snatch him, etc. Next scene: Paterson ties Marvin's leash to a post outside the same bar he visits every weeknight.  We've been set up to think that Marvin will be kidnapped.  Nope.  Paterson has his usual beer, chats with the owner, Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), and goes home.  Life doesn't always have melodrama.  Sometimes people talk shit and nothing happens.

At home is Paterson's wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), forever creating things with black and white patterns, including cupcakes, with which she someday hopes to open her own business.  Laura also wants to be a country music star and orders a guitar advertised by Esteban.  That guitar is expensive, but Paterson, who makes a modest living as a bus driver, only has a fleeting concern because he loves and supports his wife.  She in turn encourages him to submit those poems he scribbles every day before work and at lunch for publication.  Even though Paterson, who shares a name with the New Jersey town in which they live, finds reward in the writing itself, not any promise of recognition.

Another scene that threatens to turn into cheap drama - Paterson is leaving work and notices a young girl sitting alone in front of the bus station.  He's concerned about her, and offers to sit on the wall with her until her mother and sister pick her up.  Paterson and his new friend discover their mutual love for writing poems, and the scene ends without incident. Mom and sis pick her up.  No intimations of inappropriate behavior by Paterson, no contrived misunderstandings by the mother.  See how that works?

You might argue that in real life the scene might raise concerns.  Sad state we're in.  PATERSON is in fact a fantasy, a film that makes what is quite a dangerous city look fairly benign and leafy.  You might also say that an unfailingly loyal, stay at home wife is quite a rarity these days.  As is a main character who refuses to own a cell phone.  Or a bar owner who won't mount a T.V. at the bar for sports fans.  Laura in fact remarks that she feels like they're living in the twentieth century when they go to a theater to see an old B & W thriller. 

Writer/director Jim Jarmsuch fashions his movie that way, allowing his characters to enjoy a simple life, and to be content with it.  They do have dreams, aspirations, but they're not the sort of restless urban- and suburbanites we're used to seeing in films with people in their twenties.  The movie is a celebration of the beauty found in the routines.  The comfort of knowing someone is by your side, always ready to encourage you.  Seeing art on a matchbook or in the snatches of conversations heard on the bus. Not observing the daily grind with dread and ennui, but with anticipation that something fascinating, now matter how seemingly minor, will occur. Jarmusch has made many films that seem to barely move, that are fascinated with repetition and pattern.  That see beyond that and find the pulse, perhaps a blooming flower.

The director allows another moment set up to be something potentially devastating when Paterson's bus suffers an electrical failing and stalls, requiring his riders to get off and wait for the next one.  When Paterson later relays this story, at least two people express relief that the bus didn't explode into a fireball.  You know, like in the movies not directed by Jim Jarmusch.

P.S. What do you make of the "twin" motif, invisible audience?
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