(2016, Jim Jarmusch)
[5 out of 5 stars]
[Sydney Film Festival 2016 - also playing at Melbourne International Film Fest]
I’m a very tense person. More so when I’m out in public in a room full of people. Film festivals with its sold-out screenings, long lines and large crowds should be something to avoid but thankfully my love for movies outweighs the anxiety. With a little help from Valium, beta-blockers and good old-fashioned willpower, I’m usually okay. The night I saw PATERSON, however, I was not feeling good. I had those familiar feelings: the racing heart, the sweaty palms, dizziness, and all my muscles so tense it felt like a giant wrung out my entire body.
Despite all this, I decided to stay. And I’m glad I did because in Jim Jarmusch’s quietly exquisite new film PATERSON, I found a sense of calm during a hectic and anxiety-inducing schedule. It was the perfect antidote mid-fest. From my head to my toes, I felt that welcomed feeling of ease fall through my body, like a big gulp of warm milk. My knotted muscles unknotted and I thanked the universe for Jim Jarmusch.
The opening scenes consists of Paterson's (Adam Driver) simple rituals - waking up next to his charming wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), eating cereal out of a cup, and having a quiet moment before work to write some poetry about a box of Ohio Blue Tip Matches. There’s something really comforting about this. The appreciation of the minutiae, both by the titular character in the film and the film itself, seeks the small pockets of beauty hidden around us. Paterson holds the box of matches in his hands, turning it with his fingers, considering everything about it - it’s physical weight and presence, what this tiny thing really is, what it means, what it represents - and he writes a poem, occupying his brain as he goes about his day.
He works as a bus driver and he turns the poem in his head as he’s driving, considering the right words and these appear on screen in a handwritten font. Adam Driver reads them aloud, giving the audience access to the character’s innermost thoughts and feelings. It might seem redundant to show the words and hear them as well but they are different experiences.
Think about they way poetry is experienced. It is not something you read just once or in one way. You read it over and over again and each time the mind rearranges itself in order to ‘see’ it in a different way. It’s the same way we look at sculpture. You don’t just stand and look from one vantage point, the object reveals itself as you walk around it, changing your gaze and the object becomes alive because the person looking gives it life. While I was watching it, I knew that I would return to this film again and again because of this. I want to occupy this world Jarmusch has created, to live in it in a multitude of ways.
This is not the real world. Paterson encounters sets of twins who appear randomly throughout the film - in the bar or crossing the road as he’s driving past. PATERSON the film is about the man Paterson living in Paterson, New Jersey. There’s an epic poem called Paterson written by a poet who used to live in Paterson. His name is William Carlos Williams. Hmm. This is a world of symmetry, harmony and coincidences. There’s a repetitive quality to the film, like a running loop with just enough variety to keep us engaged. It is structured like a ritual with touches of satisfying harmony and mirroring.
Conflict exists but remains so small that they seem to be there just to remind us how harmonious this world is. The relationships are amicable and this might irritate some viewers because it’s so twee but I personally really like it. It’s nice. Though it lasts for less than two hours, the serenity I experienced while watching the film was welcomed. The real world is full of complications and conflict but it’s nice to be gifted with simplicity and serenity even if it is fleeting. It’s nice.