REVIEW: Paterson

28 12 2016

patersonHouston Cinema Arts Festival

I suspect like many in the blogosphere, I write not for a living but because it gives me some purpose to my passion. There’s a tendency among those us who keep up such a habit to compartmentalize life into the daily, the mundane, that which pays the bills … and the time for doing what brings true, deep, intrinsic satisfaction. These dual spheres are seemingly always battling for influence, the ideal scenario being one where the time allotted to one’s avocation can supersede that given to their vocation.

With his latest narrative film “Paterson,” however, writer/director Jim Jarmusch envisions a different way. His subject, Adam Driver’s Paterson, is a bus driver by trade in the carcass of the old industrial town of Paterson, New Jersey. Not for a second do we pity what appears on the surface to be a humdrum existence. It’s the presence of a steady routine – his morning mosey to work, his regular route, his late night dog walks, his quiet evening grabbing drinks at the bar – that allows him the headspace to write great poetry. In the absence of disruption or chaos in his life, Paterson can easily nestle his calling within his career.

This does not mean that Paterson skips merrily to get behind the wheel each day. His face lights up at any occasion to discuss poetry or writing, and such animation is hardly ever visible when he dons a stoic expression to face down another day of his regular routine. Paterson does not so much resign himself to this fate as he makes peace with it, and 2016’s struggling artists in films from “La La Land” to “Don’t Think Twice” as well as “Maggie’s Plan” would be wise to take a page from his playbook. In his own way, he has found contentment and seems quite happy with it.

Foil that with Paterson’s girlfriend, Golshifteh Farahani’s warmly supportive Laura, who appears allergic to anything resembling order or stability in her schedule. “Paterson” follows a little over a week with these characters, and no day is ever the same for her. She’s always following a new whim or passion, never fully gratified by her last pursuit. She can create cute tchotchkes, perhaps, but she moves too fast to notice the vibrant life surrounding her. Thanks to Jarmusch’s understated but steady vantage point into their world, we get to notice the unexpected virtue of stability and the joy that comes from having the perception to notice the variations and deviations that break up the monotony. A-3halfstars

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REVIEW: About Elly

30 05 2016

About EllyThe strange case of Asghar Farhadi’s quick rise to stateside prominence means that his previously unreleased ’00s films are only just being dusted off and released in America. If one believes that directors get better over time (as I do), then the more of Farhadi’s work that we see, the less impressive he looks.

Such is the somewhat awkward experience of watching his “About Elly,” which premiered in 2009 but did not wash up ashore in the U.S. until 2015. It’s still an impressive achievement, to be clear, and one can easily see how the film is cut from the same cloth as his later masterpieces “A Separation” and “The Past.” But here, he has yet to fine-tune the approach that would make him a vital force of the world cinematic stage.

There has always been an element of dramaturgy to Farhadi’s work, though “About Elly” shows far greater roots in the stage tradition. The events begin with a contrivance – a group of friendly couples headed to a beachside escape together. It feels less of a natural occurrence and more like a clearly plotted setup for dramatic events to happen.

And yes, things do happen, both dramatic and revealing. Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) makes a controversial decision to bring along the unmarried Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) in the hopes of playing matchmaker and pairing her off with their recently divorced friend (Shahab Hosseini). Of course, in Farhadi’s worlds, a calculated risk – no matter how small – always ends up opening a massive can of worms. Choices come to not only reflect an individual’s will but rather their very role in society and how it confines them on narrow demographic categories – gender, class or relationship status.

Eventually, “About Elly” does yield the kind of deep insights and raw emotion that audiences come to expect from Farhadi. It might not feel as naturally occuring, but it is there nonetheless. And if this is the rough draft necessary for the writer/director to eventually craft a magnum opus … well, this is the one of the smoothest roughs to date. B+3stars