Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Paterson and Julieta

                    “The Moving Finger writes; and having writ, 
               Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
               Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
               Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
                                                                  The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (verse LXXI)
                     written in 1120, as translated by Edward FitzGerald in 1859

                                                                   Reviews by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                         Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
A bus driver named Paterson working in Paterson, NJ writes poems in a private notebook but his girlfriend keeps insisting he make copies of them to share with the world to match her own ambitions in baking, fashion design, and country music; this story’s low-key but marvelously engagingespecially the very subtle poemsas it captures rhythms of ordinary life.
What Happens: Well, in truth, nothing much happens, but that’s the whole point of this slow-moving-but-regular-week in the life of a quiet municipal bus driver in Paterson, NJ who happens to be named Paterson (Adam Driver—whose character also happens to drive a bus, in a matching coincidence).  At home (a modest house—with a perpetually-leaning-mailbox—filled with black-and-white-décor) he has an especially-loving-wife (some reviews refer to her as “girlfriend,” but the official website [see the first entry for this film in Related Links far below] says “wife” so I’ll follow that, although I didn’t notice any wedding rings on either of them nor pick up any further definitive relationship-status-clues in their dialogue), Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who truly adores Paterson's personal poetry (which he always keeps hidden in a small notebook) while displaying her own more-flamboyant-ambitions to be an interior designer, hence all the achromatic decorations everywhere—including on all her clothes—largely accomplished by painting circles or lines of white on black (or vice-versa) on just about everything except their dog, Marvin—who runs outside once a day to push the mailbox into a lean for Paterson (never got his given name) to straighten up when he gets home.

 He wakes up without an alarm at roughly 6:15am Monday-Friday, makes coffee, eats a small bowl of Cheerios, goes to work where boss Donnie (Rizwan Manji) has a never-ending-litany of problems while Paterson’s always “OK,” drives his bus mostly in silence while listening (along with us) to the interesting conversations of his passengers, writes poems in his head which he then transcribes to his notebook (all with never an edit), then after a lunchbox break at his favorite Great Falls of the Passaic River site and finishing his route he’s home for dinner, encouraging talk with Laura, and a walk with Marvin which always involves a beer-stop at a local bar run by Doc (Barry Shabaka), with his “wall of fame” for various Paterson celebrities (Lou Costello, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, etc.).

 His poems are normally based on everyday objects or fundamental situations (matches, the number of dimensions in the universe) but they evolve into quite-compelling-observations* which demonstrate how much talent lies in this reticent man that’s such a contrast to his constantly-effervescent-wife, who's a woman determined to make good money for them either by selling her cupcakes at a flea market or becoming a country-western singer like Patsy Cline (that last dream has to wait a bit, though, for her expensive b&w guitar to be delivered, after which she’ll need to learn how to play it while also figuring out how to write songs, but her self-esteem is never in question, even if the cost of the necessary [?] guitar is really straining their tiny budget).  The highlights of the week include Laura making a Brussels sprouts-cheddar cheese-pie for dinner, Doc’s wife storming into the bar angry that he took her cookie jar money to enter a chess tournament, bar patron Everett (William Jackson Harper) desperately trying to win back ex-lover Marie (Chasten Harmon) even to the point of pulling a gun to kill himself but Paterson wrestles the (toy, as it turns out) weapon away from him, and, on Friday, the bus breaking down so it has to be towed.  On Saturday, though, Laura makes a couple hundred dollars selling her cupcakes (black 
with little white frosting 
squiggles, of course) so they go out to dinner and a movie only to return to a living room full of paper scraps because Marvin chewed up the poetry book.  Despondent on Sunday afternoon, Paterson wanders to the Falls where he finds a serene Japanese man (Masatoshi Nagase) is reading poems by their mutual favorite, William Carlos Williams (who also wrote in Paterson, while primarily being a doctor), then gives a blank note book to Paterson who’s inspired to begin again. When they wake up on Monday morning, the rest of their normal lives also resume (although Laura’s future successes are still yet to be determined …).

*Bus driver-Paterson’s poems in Paterson are actually composed by noted writer Ron Padgett (a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Poetry, along with many other honors).  You can get the entirety of one from the film, “Love Poem,” at this site, but just to give you a quick sense of how they all evolve beautifully from the mundane to the astute, here’s a sample of how "Love Poem" begins and ends:

               We have plenty of matches in our house.
                We keep them on hand always.
                Currently our favorite brand is Ohio Blue Tip,
                though we used to prefer Diamond brand. 
                That is what you gave me, I
                became the cigarette and you the match, or I
                the match and you the cigarette, blazing
                with kisses that smolder toward heaven.”

(“Cigarette” is likely used as a metaphor here because neither of these characters is ever shown smoking, except in the smoldering manner the poem notes about their passion for each other.)

So What? Over the many years of his career Jarmusch has done much contemplation-inspiring-work I’ve admired greatly (not, however, including the one many consider his debut [although that film would actually be Permanent Vacation {1980}, which I’ve never seen], Stranger than Paradise [1984], which I found to be so irritating that I was tempted to run screaming into the night from the theater)—with Mystery Train (1989), Dead Man (1995), and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) surely among my favorites—but Paterson actually puts the feel of contemplation into the film itself even more so than what you might want to think and talk about after the screening, especially in the scenes where the bus driver just lets the conversations of his nearby-passengers flow into his brain as 2 young guys lie to themselves about hot they are to women who desire them (maybe … at best) or a young couple (Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman) who are discussing the heritage of anarchy in Paterson (not much, really).  Paterson, the character, is fascinated by the spontaneous aspects of life all around him, including a chance meeting after work one day with a young girl (Sterling Jerins), also a poet, whose lovely little “Water Falls” (about rain) moves him just as he also admires  professional work of someone like Williams* whose Paterson is a 5-volume-exploration (published 1946-1958; this link contains the entire 246-page-text where you can just click your cursor on any right-side-page to go forward, any left-side-page to go back) of many reflections on the city where he actually lived for years, where this fictional film is mostly shot.

*If you’d like to know more about this famed poet you might want to visit this link where you can get biographical info and samples of his work (the latter at the very bottom of this extended source).

 Like poetry itself, what Jarmusch has finely-accomplished here is that his film’s so immersed in the mood and nuances of this normally-verbal-art that it’s difficult for me to transform what I've come to encounter with it into another medium (even words in prose format have limitations in trying to fully bring to life in a different form what the poem accomplished in its own medium) whereas I can usually go on (and on, I'm well aware) at mind-boggling-length in prose about how specific examples of the amazing-multi-sensory-medium of cinema have impacted me in their illusions of real presence. but that's not going to be the case this time.  Paterson, while prosaic in the sense of showing the ordinary lives of people in what appears to be a routine, industrial-heritage-city (as with 1950s Pittsburgh in Fences [Denzel Washington, 2016; review in our January 12, 2017 posting] but with Washington’s work offering much more in terms of dramatic dialogue/plot events, taking us deeper into the incendiary-realm of poetic-power accomplished by exquisitely-delivered-language), isn’t as mundane as the actions portrayed might indicate with its poetry being of the Williams-Padgett sort where simple statements unfold into evocative-truths, encouraging rumination rather than quick observation, hinting at depths that lie quietly in rivers rather than thundering into our lives like waterfalls (or the familial tragedies to be explored in the review below of Julieta)Paterson’s like a known-bus-route you can appreciate only if you look into it rather than just at it, finding the usually-overlooked-aspects of daily existence.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Despite getting a solidly-resounding-sense of support from the critical-community-at-large (96% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, a rare high of a 90% average score from the folks surveyed at Metacritic; more details available in the Related Links section farther below)—along with Best Actor awards for Adam Driver from both the Los Angeles and Toronto Film Critics Associations (plus a Palm Dog Award for now-deceased Nellie at the Cannes Film Festival to honor her only screen appearance)—there hasn’t been too much chatter otherwise for awards for Paterson, nor has it yet gotten much exposure (only playing in 14 domestic [U.S.-Canada] theaters after 3 weeks in release so it’s earned only a tiny $355,889 return so far), therefore I can’t even say if you’ll get much chance to see it except through video access (it was #35 in the domestic market last weekend, but when you add in the totals for the M.L. King Monday holiday for a 4-day-take it just falls off the Box Office Mojo list entirely), which I’ll heartily encourage just for the poetry alone in its revelation of thoughtful-beauty hibernating in plain sight.  My poetry (and human-decency)-appreciative-wife, Nina, would give it 5 stars because she’s so moved by it (as you know, I’m stingier than that, except where Fences is concerned) just as Phoebe Snow must have been moved by someone (although not Jackson Browne she said, as it was once rumored) when she wrote her most-famous-song, “Poetry Man” (from her 1974 Phoebe Snow album) so I’ll use this Paterson-inspired-aural-choice for my standard Musical Metaphor to further probe the presence of the film under review (maybe as we’d hear sung by our emerging [?] c&w star Laura to her husband: “you eyes, they light the night They look right through me. You bashful boy”) as I do find a harmonic-interarts-resonance between what I saw in Jarmusch’s work, what I hear from Snow at

 But yet, there’s one other “mystical” harmonic convergence to share here with you regarding Nina, me, and this film, but to get there we have to push deeper into the arcane realm of oddball-metaphor to finish up these comments not with another poem by Paterson or even Williams but one that Williams acknowledged he liked quite a bit, written in this same sparse style, The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), by Wallace Stevens, inspired by Picasso’s The Old Guitarist (painted in 1903-’04, during his “Blue Period,” although you’ll notice that the guitar’s about the only item that’s not blue on this canvas) as a 33-canto (excerpts here) poem/conversation between Stevens and Picasso’s musician.  I note it now to illustrate how—especially for those of us for whom poetry is a learned-rather-than-organic-experience (although I did manage to make a rhyme to begin this sentence)—such a seeming-stream-of-consciousness can be impressively-moving when kept short and digestible even upon first encounter—as with “Love Poem” and our Paterson protagonist’s other inspirations—or it can become downright-overwhelming when put into a lengthy context.  Case in point, when camping early on in our relationship somewhere closer to “then” than “now” in our almost 30 years together Nina wanted me to read her to sleep with some poetry so I arbitrarily chose Wallace’s work from a book she had; rather than help her doze off into peaceful slumber, though, I got annoyed by the incessant flow of the lines so by about the 20th time I had to repeat the words “the blue guitar” I was as ready to run out of the tent that night as I had been a few years earlier to escape the moviehouse when watching Stranger than Paradise, so I admit in certain circumstances that a little bit of either Stevens or Jarmusch (Williams as well, I’m sure) can go a long way with me, longer than I’d hoped for when entering into those experiences; however, I think I can safely say that Paterson will provide no such need for wild-departure, just a gently flowing river of appreciation (as I appreciate Nina laughing off my eventual frustration with Mr. Stevens that night so long ago).
                                             Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, 2016)
A widow’s been estranged from her daughter for years, later she’s taken up with a lover and is about to leave Madrid for Portugal when she accidently runs into an old friend of the daughter so she stays, hoping to somehow, someday make contact with her adult child; as she writes a lengthy letter to her daughter we see in flashbacks how the mother's younger self evolved.
What Happens: Julieta Arcos (Emma Suárez) lives in Madrid but is packing to move to Portugal with her lover, Lorenzo Gentile (Darío Grandinetti).  However, a chance meeting on the street with Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of her daughter, leads to the information that Aníta—long estranged from her mother—is now living in Switzerland with her 3 children.  Julieta abruptly decides to stay in Madrid, leaving Lorenzo confused (except for the sad sense that their relationship is over), moving away on his own, while Julieta gives up her current address to move back to the building where she lived when last she was in contact with Aníta, in hopes that one day her long-gone-daughter will find her again.  From this beginning, the film goes into an extended flashback that visualizes what Julieta is finally confiding to Aníta in a long letter, one that we hear some verbalization of in voiceover.  Back when she was 25, Julieta (now played by Adrina Ugarte) had hopes of being a teacher, at that time with a 6-month-replacement job but hoping for more.  As she’s traveling by train, she gets uncomfortable with an older man who enters her carriage as his conversation leads to unseemly-implications so she rushes off to the bar car where she strikes up a conversation with a fisherman, Xoan (Daniel Grao), in a scene mixing beauty with melancholy as they watch a stag running in slow motion through the train window as he tells her he’s married but his wife’s in a coma.  The train makes a station stop but after starting up again comes to a sudden halt which turns out to be because the older man from Julieta’s compartment was on the tracks, allowing himself to be killed.  She’s distraught, thinking she could have been kinder, more aware of what he was actually saying, but her dismay’s soon replaced by passionate sex with Xoan (shown mostly as reflections in the train window as they’re speeding along—in several ways—at night).

While most of this film's intentionally not as colorful as
Almodóvar' usual palette there are some scenes that 
harken back to his more-expected color scheme.
 Just as her temporary job’s finished Julieta gets a letter from Xoan, implying an invitation to visit so off she goes to find him in Redes, his seaside town, only to learn from stern, icy housekeeper Marian (Rossy de Palma) that the wife’s just died so he’s with close-friend Ava (Inma Cuesta), a sculptor.  Despite no encouragement from Marian to stay, Julieta does so anyway until Xoan’s return (the next day?) whereupon they resume their sexual connection, ultimately resulting in Aníta, as their hot relationship solidifies into marriage.  Over the years as Aníta grows older, Julieta becomes disturbed that her mother, Sara (Susi Sánchez), is suffering from dementia while her father, Samuel (Joaquín Notario), is getting sexual with caretaker Sanáa (Mariam Bachir), even as there’s still some occasion sex happening between Xoan and Ava (despite the latter’s now-close-friendship with Julieta) which brings us to the film’s primary crisis: when preteen-Aníta’s (Blanca Parés) away at camp she becomes fast-friends with Beatriz (now played by Sara Jiménez), even to the point of going home to Madrid with her for a week when camp’s over.  During this time, Julieta confronts Xoan about Ava, leaving him upset, heading out to fish despite a storm rolling in; he dies, with Aníta heartbroken but accepting the harsh fate (without knowing all the causation details) as 
Julieta moves them to Madrid so her daughter can be close to Bea, while Mom shifts away from teaching to find a new career as a work-from-home-proofreader. 
However, when Aníta’s almost ready for college she decides to attend a 3-month-retreat; Julieta comes to pick her up only to be told her daughter’s found a spiritual calling, then left on her own with instructions her mother’s not to know where she is.  3 years pass, Ava falls ill, reveals to Julieta that Marian finally told Aníta the full circumstances of her father’s death leading her to cut off contact with Julieta, Ava, even Beatriz (because she felt guilty about having fun at camp while her father died), then Julieta meets Lorenzo at Ava’s funeral.  With all this background filled in we return to the present as Julieta’s aimlessly wandering the streets of Madrid until she happens upon Bea again (shown in the photo above), with the young woman telling her that she’s also estranged from Aníta.  Distracted, Julieta’s hit by a car but taken to the hospital by Lorenzo who’d returned, essentially stalking his former-lover, hoping to somehow connect again.  Our sad story finally comes to more-hopeful-closure as Julieta suddenly gets a letter from Aníta about 1 of her sons drowning, giving the daughter insight as to how her departure had hurt her mother so Julieta and Lorenzo are off to re-establish contact, with the past 12 years of cold-silence to be forgiven.

So What? Unlike with Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise, my first filmic-encounter with Pedro Almodóvar, the delicious 
Women on the Verge of 
a Nervous Breakdown (1988), provided me with an immediate connection to his work (although he’d had a few other features out prior to that date that I had to catch up with later), which easily found the heights of flamboyant (High Heels, 1991), even disturbing (The Skin I Live In, 2011) or devilishly-comic (I’m So Excited, 2013; see a review of this last one in our August 8, 2013 posting if you like), filmmaking compared to which Julieta is a very subdued experience in which we have to wait quite awhile before clear understanding of why the daughter’s so alienated from her mother, with the tension slowly growing until we get the dramatic reveal (reminiscent of learning about the children’s tragic deaths in Manchester by the Sea [Kenneth Lonergan, 2016; review in our December 8, 2016 posting]).  Starting out in this film you wouldn't necessarily think this acclaimed director’s method would end up so tersely-serious, especially with his signature-colorful-adornments in the opening titles' imagery and the early scenes (especially a striking red)—although not so much so as in the lavish beginnings of La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016; review in our December 21, 2016 posting)—but as soon as Julieta encounters Beatriz the  
film withdraws to scenes of considerably-more-restrained-emotional-energy than we’d usually associate with Almodóvar (not a shortcoming, just a challenge to established expectations) although there's still the focus on exceptionally-intriguing-female-characters (which is another hallmark of this auteur’s body of work) as we sense immediately there's something quite significant about Julieta, who’s seen as having such substance that Lorenzo must accept she’s made a decision not to leave Madrid even though she won’t explain why (she’s never told him about Aníta, either, as he acknowledges she has secrets that will be kept to herself).  A final clue prior to the flashbacks about the yet-unrevealed-relationship between parent and child is that as Julieta’s unpacking to stay in Madrid, she throws away, then retrieves an envelope with the torn pieces of a ripped-up Julieta and Aníta photo which aren’t immediately put back together as we’d expect them to be, showing visually the rift between mother and daughter, although we’ve yet to find out why, just as when Julieta begins her long letter we might easily make the mistake of thinking the older man on the train would become Aníta’s father, that is until we see her rush out of the compartment leading to a meeting with another man, a handsome hunk more likely to pair up with this attractive vision in spiky blonde hair and a leather mini-skirt.  Other plot twists (such as Marian’s reservations—at times hostility—toward Juliana) act to further keep us guessing for quite some time before all of the initial ambiguities are resolved.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Given the difficult journey that the characters take in Julieta it’s appropriate that when we do see our younger-protagonist in a classroom scene she’s teaching the Odyssey where she explains to her students that Odysseus is actually a poor navigator because it takes him so long to return home but that seeming-failure as a narrative hero is also what opens him to a life of further adventures he’d not anticipated, so life—as explored in this film—often becomes much more intriguing (if not grimly-challenging) by unintended events, just like Julieta's chance-meeting on a train with a lover eventually leading to their marriage and child, even though those surprises may turn tragic, just like on her final day with Xoan because of an argument she started when she wasn't ready to finish (she had school lessons to prepare; she also wanted to take a long walk to clear her mind before any further accusations).  Julieta’s life will then progress through periods of pain, reclamation, then debilitating distress as she journeys into middle-age, with both actors portraying her doing substantial jobs of giving tangibility to a fictional construct, enlivening the words on a script page just as Julieta’s lengthy letter allows her to give a fleshed-out-understanding to circumstances that Aníta never had the opportunity to know nor discuss with her mother before cutting off communication (ironically, with the “past is forgiven”-ending-attitude of this story, it’s not clear either Aníta or Lorenzo will read this lengthy-life-explanation, even though it’s crucial for our understanding of how events evolved with this family).

This is an intriguing publicity still, not a shot
directly from the film because the 2 women
portraying Julieta at different times in
her life never are onscreen together.
 Critical response to Julieta has been solid so far (82% at RT, 72% at MC; more details below), with Spain now offering this film as their entry in Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film race although it may take such a major-nomination-boost to raise its domestic earnings (a mere $540,276 after a month in release but that’s only in 29 theaters; however, it’s taken in $20.9 million overseas, with likely a limited budget, so hopefully it’ll find eventual-financial-success, Oscar nom or not)An obvious choice for a Julieta Musical Metaphor would be Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” (on the 1972 Paul Simon album, his first released after the break with Garfunkel) but that speaks only to the very end of our story (although hoped for much longer by Julieta) so I think we could find a more appropriate decision in Player’s “Baby Come Back” (from the 1977 Player album) at watch?v=Hn-enjcgV1o (featuring poor old-school-video but lyrics added), where the original romantic-breakup-scenario of the lyrics could—with a little metaphorical-imaginationbe reasonably-reinterpreted to familial-estrangement as Julieta says Aníta “can blame it all on me I was wrong, and I just can’t live without you […] Have you used up all the love in your heart? Nothing left for me, ain’t there nothing left for me?”  (However, if you want to finish with Paul’s song to shift to the film’s finale, here it is (no video at all but lyrics also added so feel free to sing along until we meet again*).

*Something else that might be interesting to you is a transcript from the press kit of this film of 
what director-screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar himself has to say about his work, which saves me from having to repeat it throughout my commentary.  If you'd like to look into that further, please scroll down to the very bottom of this posting for a sample of that and info on how to retrieve it.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.
AND … at least until the Oscars for 2016’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 26, 2017 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2016 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards 
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2016.

Here’s more information about Paterson: (45:43 press conference at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival with director Jim Jarmusch, producers Carter Logan, Josh Astrachan, and actors Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani)

Here’s more information about Julieta: (36:51 press conference at the 2016 New York Film Festival with director Pedro Almodóvar [some of his answers are presented in Spanish, then translated into English] and actors Emma Suárez [her answers are all in Spanish, then translated], Adriana Ugarte)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

 Below is a sample of the 8 pages of commentary on Julieta by its director, Pedro Almodóvar, that I noted at the end of the review for that film.  But rather than clutter up this posting with a separate jpg for each page of it I'll just ask that if you'd like a pdf attachment of the whole document to an email simply contact me at the address just above and I'll be glad to reply to you with such an attachment.

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