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Film review: Paterson

Film & TV

It takes a special kind of artistic brilliance to create an utterly compelling film in which nothing much happens. It’s the sort of brilliance Jim Jarmusch has in spades and his latest film, Paterson, proves that beyond all doubt.

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Known for his artistic integrity and his dedication to high culture, Jarmusch frequently references poets, artists and musicians in his work, but Paterson goes much further.

Poetry is at the very epicentre of this film, not just because it’s an homage to William Carlos Williams’ epic poem of the same name (with similar historic references and imagistic repetition), but because it’s ultimately a celebration of poetry and its place in the world.

The main character is a bus-driver called Paterson who lives in the city of Paterson. With Jarmusch’s love of synchronicity, it’s not beyond possibility that Adam Driver (Kylo Ren in Star Wars) was chosen for the role because of his second name. Whatever the reason, Driver is brilliant as poet/bus driver Paterson; gentle, laconic, sympathetic and eminently likeable, he is the wheel around which the action (such as it is) revolves.

Golshifteh Farahani (Body of Lies, There Be Dragons) is equally wonderful as his partner Laura, a creative type with a penchant for black and white.

The film portrays one week in the couple’s largely uneventful lives, each day a new stanza with subtle variations of the same rhythms. Paterson gets up at the same time, drives his bus along the same route, comes home, writes poetry, takes the dog for a walk, stops for a drink in the same bar. Laura stays at home, cooking, decorating, baking cupcakes, practising guitar.

What makes this movie such a delight to watch is the couple’s appreciation of each other and their lives. They have found a way of revelling in the everyday, of experiencing the joy of creative expression for its own sake and celebrating each other’s creativity.

Add to this Frederick Elmes’ subtly elegant cinematography, a mesmerising electronic soundtrack from Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL and Ron Padgett’s beautifully understated poetry and you have a film that gently removes your pessimistic pince-nez and replaces them with larger spectacles of a rosier hue.

Randall Jarrell wrote of William Carlos Williams’ Paterson “(It) seems to me the best thing (he) has ever written … the organisation of Paterson is musical to an almost unprecedented degree … how wonderful and unlikely that this extraordinary mixture of the most delicate lyricism of perception and feeling with the hardest and homeliest actuality should ever have come into being!”

Ditto for this extraordinary film, probably the best ever Jim Jarmusch movie and certainly the best film I’ve seen in 2016.

Paterson opens in cinemas on December 22.

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