Cannes 2016 – Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)


This is Paterson, a man. He is a full-time bus driver and a part-time poet. Perhaps it’s the other way around. Paterson (Adam Driver) lives with Laura, his girlfriend. He wakes up early and goes to work. The first verses are written early in the morning on a secret, anonymous notebook. His girlfriend insists she should publish it, or at least make photocopies. Paterson doesn’t carry a mobile phone.


Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) usually stays at home. She does a lot of DIY and hasn’t fully realised what she wants to do with her life. Laura paints the curtains, the walls, and her clothes always in black and white. One day she wants to become a cupcake entrepreneur, the next one a country musician. She can be obnoxious, but she seems to understand Paterson. They love each other. Marvin also lives in the house. He is an English Bulldog. An expensive breed, apparently.


This is Paterson, a quiet city in New Jersey. There seems to be nothing special about it. It has peaked at around 150 thousand inhabitants and stayed about the same. Not a big city, yet the hometown of such names as Allen Ginsberg, Lou Costello, Sam and Dave… and Fetty Wap. An Italian anarchist also lived here.


Laura told Paterson she dreamed of the two having twins. He’s been coming across many twins lately. Paterson listens to the conversations of the passengers. Every evening, Paterson takes Marvin for a walk. They stop at Doc’s bar. Marvin stays outside while the bus driver drinks a beer. He talks with Doc about the notable names that have been born in the city. They make the city. This is everyday Paterson (both the city and the man).


This is Paterson, a film by Jim Jarmusch. It follows Laura and Paterson (the man) through a week in their lives in Paterson (the city). Adam Driver builds an appealing leading character, a silent but enigmatic man whose true soul is revealed through the writing and reading of his poems, which were actually borrowed from Ron Padgett, a poet from Oklahoma. Not from Paterson. Farahani effectively portrays Laura, an intense and even annoying woman. The mystery behind the bus driver overshadows the female character, and even the city itself.

A quieter work than his previous release (Only Lovers Left Alive), Jarmusch’s film seems sunk in the serene rhythm of the life of Paterson (both the city and the man). The bus driver meets a girl poet. Before reading her verses, she warns him about her work not rhyming, but being in free verse. Paterson (the man) understands. The film’s weakest point is precisely the somehow dull rhyme it attempts to develop. An internal rhyme, perhaps, but distant from the unexpected beauty Paterson’s (Padgett’s) free verses evoke.


The United States is presented as a transforming society. The Northeast seems to be milder in terms of ethnic integration. Race seems not to be a theme surrounding Laura (a woman with evident, striking Persian features) or the ever-complaining Donny, Paterson’s supervisor. The story becomes a balanced dialogue between black and white communities. Black and white, just like Laura’s designs. Ironically enough, Paterson is a city where over half of the population is Hispanic, a group barely represented in the film. One night, Paterson passes by a laundromat. A black man (Method Man) is performing impeccable rap. He compliments the singer, as if he were acknowledging rap as the counterpart to free verse in popular culture, which it is.


This is Paterson, an epic poem by William Carlos Williams, Paterson’s favourite poet. Paterson the bus driver, that is. It was published in five books between 1946 and 1958. Williams describes the city and its people, building an idyllic image of the inspiring mid-century United States. Six decades later, Jarmusch is doing the same.