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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 05.22.16] drama

Sometimes you really want to like a picture because you have a certain fondness for its director, and when the experience is tremendously below everything you'd imagined you're quite stuck, struggling to justify it. I still cannot tell if what I saw was serious or not, if it's an experimental collection of musings on asceticism, failure and audience frustration, or if it should be taken as a parody of a certain intellectual clique. Because what I sat through was like staring into the heart of a cold, dead star breathing its acrid dust until I choked.

The daily life of a bus driver, unfolding like a pre-teen diary, is what we're treated with here.

A week's worth of time, complete with day written out on screen each morning. I'm not usually a fan of that kind of trope but in this particular case, however cheesy it might seem, it's actually pretty useful. Without that indication one could believe he's watching Groundhog Day with an English Bulldog in lieu of the usual critter. Time indeed flows in Paterson, it's just that the titular character's life is in such a state of stasis you will doubt of its passage.

Each and every day is made of the same half-dozen sequences, shot identically, and only varying marginally in whatever isn't linked to the main character. There will always be the “a conversation from the bus passengers' segment, but never with the same people. When it comes to Paterson himself, nothing ever moves or evolves.

Actually, all possibilities of something developing into any kind of action or story arc there is, each figment of a beginning, is subsequently nipped in the bud before it can impact something. So many of those wither on the vine it's like watching a morgue fill up, corpse by corpse until there is nothing else to watch than vitreous eyes on lifeless husks.

Add to that a graphical treatment of the poetry and creative process that's more or less equivalent to gouging your own spleen with a rusty spoon, namely: text overlayed on screen in a rather generic scratchy handwriting font while it's read in a lifeless tone for the poetry. As for the creative process, imagine the Hallmark birthday cards your crazy cat lady of an aunt sends you. The same scratchy font over a pastel filtered view of the Paterson falls with a color picture in the lower right corner. In this case usually snippets of whatever his wife is doing.

The main association going through my mind during the whole ordeal was with Arnaud Michniak's 2002 album "L'enfer tiede." Lukewarm hell. There's no other way to describe that picture, yet it's only painful for the audience, the character is perfectly, unfathomably happy. This why I'm at a loss on what's the intent of it all, the perpetual culling of progression balanced by a rather happy go lucky attitude towards everything.

And of course there is the meta-data. The whole experience is built out of a series of concentric puns encompassing everything on and off screen. Don't tell me that Adam Driver, playing a bus Driver named Paterson in the city of Paterson and touring us in it like in a live excerpt of the Paterson from William Carlos Williams isn't intended as being some sort of joke. Or maybe it's a tongue-in-cheek jab at the apolitical Arte Povera thing going on since the last crisis.

In the end, is it incredibly boring on purpose because there's something quintessentially American middle-class that I can't see? There's the right question.

As you pass on this one, remember there is a Jarmusch film you need to see this year: Gimme Danger. Instructive, funny, entertaining. The whole nine yards.

Recommended Release: Ghost Dog

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