Cannes 2016: Paterson Review

adam driver in paterson

Jim Jarmusch is in Cannes with two films: later in the week is his Iggy Pop doc and Iggy pops up in Paterson, a magical mystery bus ride around the eponymous New Jersey city with Adam Driver as a poetry-writing bus driver, who just happens to be called Paterson. 

Jarmusch has broken the story into days of the week. Waking up on Monday with his magic watch which has no alarm, Paterson wakes his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and she describes her dream of having twins. After breakfasting in the multi-patterned home – there are stripes, waves and dots on virtually every surface and furnishing, and even Paterson’s breakfast Cheerios echo the interior – he sets off to work. As the days progress, we see the character’s actions repeated with slight variations. Every morning he wakes up, sets out, writes poetry, drives his bus while Laura’s at home concocting a new dream, a new colour scheme and a new recipe. He takes the dog for a walk and heads to his local bar for a beer where the same punters appear.

Some of this repetition can be grating, as we see Laura make her umpteenth set of curtains or paint another piece of furniture, but very soon we anticipate and enjoy the repetition, particularly the conversations between Paterson and his bus depot boss Donny (Rizwan Manji), who has an entertaining list of personal woes. It’s also a reminder that pleasures can be found in repetition. And after Laura’s dream of twins, they appear all over the city. Although this can seem forced, it shows that coincidences exist if you are prepared to looking for them.

Paterson’s world is one of a heightened awareness of his surroundings and the audience views the city through a poet’s eyes. He always has an ear open to the myriad conversations on his bus, many of which tell us a little more history about the place and its inhabitants. If this Paterson exists, it’s a place most of us would love to live in. Walking Marvin the dog one night, Paterson is stopped by a group of men cruising the empty streets. Yet there is no menace here, just some friendly chat. On another outing with the pooch, with whom Paterson has a relationship of mutual unspoken dislike, he happens upon Method Man at the laundromat, trying out a new rap. The bar’s owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) and patrons are no less interesting, with a different drama played out there every night.

Driver’s Paterson is full of great modesty and, as always, is a delight to watch. The supporting cast – particularly Shabaka Henley and Manji – are strong. Faharani is less convincing, but this is more because her character has little room for manoeuvre. But the real star here is poetry. Paterson first reads out his poems as he writes them, the words appearing on the screen as he reads. Once he’s done this, we get a second rendition of the poem, this time read in full flow as a completed piece. His poems contain the minutiae of his life that Jarmusch so dexterously depicts. And just as his poems are often love poems to Laura, so this film is an ode to Paterson and to poetry itself.

It is no coincidence that the poet’s partner is called Laura. When Paterson meets a young girl, she is almost like a young reflection of him for she is also a poet with a “secret” book containing her work. As we see this poet in motion, we realise how important poetry is in our lives and should thank Jarmusch for reminding us of this fact.