Review: ‘Paterson’

Paterson is both a film and a poem, a loving poem that throws a warm light on the faces in the cinema. Adam Driver plays Paterson, a New Jersey Transit bus driver living in the town of Paterson. The plot plays out over seven days, and for that week we are quiet observers of the life that Paterson shares with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and dog, peeking into the lives of those that surround him. As he drives the bus we can listen in on the conversations of other passengers, snippets of reflections on the world: children talking about legendary boxers, teenagers talking about anarchists, adult men talking about women. In this setting nothing is extra-ordinary, because the ordinary is already a richly scented world.

Before starting the bus’s engine for the day’s journey around the city, Paterson sits in the driver’s seat and writes poetry. His words are formed in many layers: ink in a notebook from the pen he holds between his fingers, a voice-over of his thoughts speaking each word clearly and stressed with rhythmic nuance, and Paterson’s handwritten words superimposed over the images on the screen. The poems he writes are simple and beautiful, poems that allow the quotidian to blossom into meaningful statements. As he writes and reads, the images on the screen multiply and layer. The setting will become translucent, and other pellucid images of water, the streets, his friends, will blend in a pictorial cacophony that reminded me of the sound of children in a playground, where heterogeneous games and laughter and chat form a single sound of bubbling joy, a sheet of kindred play. The layering of images signals when poetry-proper (as opposed to the always-poetry of everything) is taking place — like the written poetry, the visuals create multiplicity in a single frame, just as language may offer multiple meanings in a single word.

During the day, Paterson’s wife is also a poet of sorts, elevating domestic functions with lyrical flourishes whilst he drives the bus. She is an artist, and curtains, napkins, clothing, pillow cases and cupcakes are all subject to her decorative, monochrome painted spots and swirls. She learns guitar, she cooks him dinner. Her enthusiasm is sweet without being saccharine, a joy in life, in looking at objects and then looking at them again and adding a gesture in pigment until the house is a celebration of and in patterns.

Some images repeat in the film’s narrative, most notably that of twins. The film opens with Paterson and his partner sleeping in bed, and as she rouses she tells him of a dream she has had where they have two children — twins. From then on, twins appear frequently as passengers on the bus, on a bench, crossing the street, and an encounter with a fellow poet who has a twin. The recurring motif is like that the twins themselves, a repeat with variation. These identical bodies create a quiet structure, a subtle passing and marking in the world that shows how the everyday can take on new meanings when we take notice or look a little harder. The function of this repetition was effective in relaying how surreal everyday living can be for those who find poetry in the seemingly insignificant.

The casual intimacy of the characters and the film was reassuring somehow, without specificity, life affirming. As I stepped outside the cinema it was cold. I cycled home quickly, and wrote a poem.

James Slattery

‘Paterson’ is currently showing at Phoenix Picturehouse in Jericho and begins at the Ultimate Picture Palace in Cowley on December 31st.

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One comment

  1. I enjoyed reading your review. For me this is a whimsical essay into the ordinariness of human existence. As I say in my review: It is devoid of regular cinematic artifice and feels like we have momentarily glimpsed into the inner space of a true gentle soul and can walk away the better for it. Glad you liked it too.

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