Tropic Sprockets / Paterson

By Ian Brockway

The forever quirky Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law, Only Lovers Left Alive) is back with “Paterson.” This film has all of the traits you expect from this stylistic and seasoned director: idiosyncratic dialogue, vibrant characters and philosophic observations all with a flavor of oddness and good feeling.

Jarmusch’s early work was madcap: eccentric New York people often musicans and artists were paired together in unusual situations or locales. Invariably the characters were forced to sink or swim together and more often then not,  the motley bohemians would argue, fret or  drift apart.

Here the director takes the path of tranquility showing us a bus driver (Adam Driver) in Paterson New Jersey who happens to be named Paterson. Paterson lives a somewhat routine life but he writes poetry of deep feeling (the poems of Ron Padgett) and expresses a visceral romantic bliss with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). All is stable with Paterson but Laura wants her husband to push his poetry, and bring his art to the public. Paterson resists.

Paterson works each day without fail, content to write when he can, a minute here, a minute there. After hours, he walks his contrary bulldog Marvin and downs one beer. He talks with Doc (Barry Shabaka Henry) about human foibles. In this way, Paterson is complete and he carries on, his daily events hardly varying.

By contrast, Laura palpitates with urgency and fervor. She is a painter, a baker, a country singer and she is obsessed by the colors black and white. Laura makes cupcakes with dizzying circular designs that look a bit like ringworm, but they are so weird that like Alice in Wonderland, you can’t help but try them.

All the while we see the smooth blankness in Paterson’s face. Like the Buddha, his face reveals little. He is content unto himself. But one day, thanks to the spiteful Marvin, Paterson is thrown into a  numb state of non-writing.

“Paterson” is one of the most illustrative films on the process of poetry, of writing and the subtle thrill of conversation. Driver and Farahani are wonderful. The two have a genuine chemistry and through their shared quirks they demonstrate a bit of what it feels like to be in love with human drama, speech and last, but not by any means least, the printed word.

In this film above all, there is a rebuke of the 21st century and the political trend of nationalist xenophobia. Smartphones are scarce, notebooks are plentiful and multicultural people from every location are free to ramble, write and paint with hardly a laptop in sight for miles.

Like those of Tim Burton, Jarmusch’s characters thrive in an exclusive quasi-Goth orbit of this past century where people drink coffee in small cafes and watch Bela Lugosi films. Zany expression rules and conformity is a ridiculous word.

Jim Jarmusch’s soft wildness is a joy to watch and in this age of CGI cinema, we are lucky to have him, where a parkbench conversation can reveal a haiku of emotion. Within each Jarmusch film is a two-fold message, both a comfort and a warning: individual and imperfect creation is still possible, but get to it. Time may well be short.

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