Time for one more, just one more story, before the snows settle in, and a rogue, death-star sized behemoth seizes multiplexes for the remainder of this frosty year. Now I like Jim Jarmusch, he’s one of those genuine talents whom started in his own idiosyncratic way in the American Indie scene of the 1980’s, whom has resolutely followed his own path rather than court the favor of the big studio’s or gone chasing more populist, mainstream fare. Sometimes that can work either way, I’d state his output since the millennium although regular has been a little repetitive, lightly treading circles in the water in terms of themes or style compared with the philosophical triumphs of Dead Man or Ghost Dog back in the 1990’s. However 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive seeded a return to form, his louche take on the screen vampire mythos given an effortlessly cool inscrutability, and teaming him with two of contemporary cinemas most respected performers – Tilda and Tom. His follow up, Paterson, also sees Jarmusch utilizing the skills of another so called ‘hot’ property, the intense Adam Driver who now adds another J.J. to his litany of directorial collaborations, alongside such measly metteur en scène as the Coens, Noah Baumbach, Jeff Nichols and some fellas called Scorsese and Spielberg. I was intrigued to see that this was showing at my local Cineworld which can occasionally branch out from the blockbuster fare and serve an alternative audience, and Paterson’s regular appearance on many of the sprouting ‘best of the years’ list also piqued my interest, along the fact that a) I haven’t been to the cinema for a couple of weeks and b) disgracefully I’ve never fully covered a Jarmusch film here, meant that a weeknight jaunt to West India Quay was written in the stars.
I first stumbled across Jarmusch through the legendary Moviedrome season and a late night screening of Down By Law, which in turn introduced me to the particular grizzled charms of Tom Waits and John Lurie, author of one of the most gently bizarre cult curios I have recently stumbled across. Unlike some of his contemporaries such as Alison Anders and Hal Hartley Jarmusch seems to have endured, building a quiet but devoted fanbase who enjoy his Lower West Side cultural appropriations and the minimalist, social realist bend to his movies. His path is to take stoic yet creative, withdrawn yet robust characters through a short phase of their life, armed with a gentle sprinkling of movie, music, or literature references, finalised with a subtle narrative punch, to provide some dramatic charge and sense of purpose. Location is important, gracing his seemingly aimless narratives with an extra intangible character, utilizing such evocative and pungent locales as Memphis, New Orleans, Tangiers and Detroit. His latest focuses on working class suburbia, as the location and the main character share the same New Jersey destination – Paterson. He’s a young veteran who now makes his modest means driving a bus around the borough, played with a seemingly lethargic Adam Driver. Every day cycles through the same pattern – Paterson wakes up and snuggles with his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani)before grabbing a spot of breakfast. He interacts with is beleaguered supervisor before taking the bus around the city, while gently eavesdropped on his passengers for inspiration. At lunch he crafts poetry which he captures in ancient pen and paper analogue style, while eating his pre-packed snack at a local park. Returning home he adjusts the rickety mailbox, before dinner and a walk of the dog, an errand which serves as an excuse for a couple of beers at his local watering hole where he is friendly with the wise barkeep Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley). Rinse, recycle & repeat seven times, for the films one week insight into Paterson’s quiet life meanders through these peaks and troughs, mediated via Jarmusch’s unhurried, deadpan humored ideology.
Alongside Broken Flowers this might be Jarmusch’s most gentle and quietly affecting film, the rhythms and repetition of modern life forming the narrative spine, with just a faint hint of manufactured affectation (what was with all the twins eh?) to keep the piece firmly locked into his own, particularly precocious movie universe that stretches from Down By Law through to The Limits Of Control. There are faint whiffs of hipster posturing which is no new allegation against J.J., a fetishisation for authentic artifacts such as the folk music guitar that Laura covets, or the range of left-field musicians that festoon Paterson’s local bar patron hall of fame, the closest echo must be the immortal vampires spirited deference to vinyl over digital in Only Lovers Left Alive. If you can stomach such light posturing and the references to poets such as William Carlos Williams (whose epic magnum opus serves as another layer of inspiration for the film) or Ezra Pound then there is much to enjoy here, in all its homely and familiar, slice-of-life infrastructure. Both Laura and Paterson are not quite realistic, not the grounded vérité characterizations that you’d expect in, say, a Ken Loach picture, but there genuine affection and patience of each others idiosyncrasies, from his lack of ambition to take his work to a wider audience, to his quiet patience with her various financial schemes and flighty hobbies.
Jarmusch’s perceived failure to engage with the reality of these locations and characters has confounded some observers – why make Paterson a veteran and then not explore any potential damaged psychosis? Even in cosmopolitan, suburban New York a mixed race relationship wouldn’t be exposed to some social public disruption or prejudice? I think such concerns are missing the woods for the trees, these simply aren’t the concerns of the filmmaker who isn’t attempting to make some social realist statement, his emphasis is on an entirely different intellectual plane, and its not dissimilar to complaining that a Michael Bay picture violates the laws of physics, logical cohesion or indeed shared system of simple human decency. Jarmusch is interested in the quiet magic, the reflections among peoples lives and our interactions within those frameworks, mannered yes but no less affecting slice-of-life vignettes which we can all relate to on some, intrinsic level. I caught a sense of the Bukowski in the blue-collar repetition, thankfully minus the anarchy of substance abuse, yet with a fine eye of the poetry in the minutiae, which may yield more poignant shared truths than any high intellectual , elite university educated wordsmith. Like it’s 2016 stalemate Certain Women this is not a film which is going to change the world, but for the two hours it spirits you into someone else’s tender-hearted life, a welcome respite to the gloomy news cycle which as Rian Johnson recently tweeted ‘I could have spent another twenty hours in that world’;