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Paterson ****

by Andres Solar

American auteur Jim Jarmusch triumphs again with an achingly gentle yet sharply funny portrait about ever-present beauty and the poetry of life.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Contrary to recent proclamations of the great master Martin Scorsese, cinema fights to live another day. Hollywood’s starlight might be fading but, in independent films like “Paterson,” by writer/director Jim Jarmusch (“Stranger Than Paradise” [1984]), we find not only a living, thriving cinema, but that rarest of precious 21st Century gems: truth.

Adam Driver, nuanced and vibrant, plays Paterson, the namesake of the small New Jersey city in which he lives. Jarmusch purposefully chooses a profession that seems ordinary and repetitive for his titular character: city bus driver, and part of the film’s power comes from depicting people as much more than what they do for a living. Paterson is also a prolific poet. He writes in his notebook every morning religiously and, in doing so, shows his laid-back determination not to become a robot, though his weekdays are programmed and run (mostly) like clockwork.

Laura (played note-perfectly by Golshifteh Farahani) is his live-in partner—the movie doesn’t reveal if they are married or not. She’s a dreamer and idealist who provides contrast to Paterson’s friendly stoicism. Their relationship is remarkable—even exemplary—in its mutual, soft affection, attention to the needs and wants of the other, and absence of anger.

Some folks who see “Paterson” will complain that the protagonist and his partner are too perfect and therefore “unrealistic.” That’s a shame, because they’re not meant to be the stereotypical, middle-class, American couple. The subtle surrealism of the characters and their relationship provides much of the transcendent power of the film. Typicalism isn’t as important to Jarmusch as the inevitable, ravishing beauty of the universe which transcends any setting and scenario. Even those of a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey.

And Jarmusch provides a pleasant variety of scenes for us to enjoy the unfolding of Driver’s character. Every day after work, Paterson walks his dog and stops by the local watering hole for a beer. His interactions with the barkeep and other characters are unpredictable, playful, and often humorous. So, while the film is most definitely a meditation, it’s a dynamic one with many moods and not just one.


The movie invites introspection and reflection, but also inspection. How have Paterson and Laura created a home where almost nothing is taken for granted? Could a real couple actually foment such levels of peace and harmony?

Jarmusch observes and meditates using clever cinematography and thoughtful pacing. His almost theatrical staging works to make it a quieter film, visually as well as aurally. Paterson’s poetry (and that of his favorite poet, William Carlos Williams) are woven into the proceedings via Driver’s voice-over and “handwriting” which appears on screen. The writer/director thus creates a world in which we can observe and internally celebrate the moments in life in-between obvious events or actions.

“Paterson,” like “Moonlight” (2016), is among the most necessary contemporary films. The movie takes place, not in a New Jersey city, but in an alternate, fantasy universe. However, some critics (few, indeed) have gone so far as to label Laura an idiot for her naivete—a patent impossibility. Idiocy, as we can plainly see today, is a state of being in a blurry, cynical trudge through a fabrication of life. It does not exist in Jarmusch’s film. He is presenting these people for consideration on a possibility plane; a dream world where politeness, gentleness, and integration reign.

Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for Punch Drunk Movies. He feels that Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyer’s Club” [2013], “Wild” [2014]) is highly overrated, and that David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche” [2013], “Joe” [2014]) is highly underrated.