Paterson (Jarmusch. 2016)

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A humble, gentle, quietly brilliant film, Jim Jarmusch’s crowd-pleaser at Cannes is an ambling, whimsical ode to blue collar America, poetry and the unassuming beauty of everyday life. A warming story of a salt of the earth bus driver who is also a poet, it’s a film that requires you to slow down and reflect.

At the centre of the story is bus driver and hobbyist poet, Paterson (Adam Driver). As low-key an artist as they get, Paterson operates the 23 bus in his home town of Paterson, New Jersey. Every day he gets up in the early hours, kisses his partner, munches down a bowl of cheerios, walks to work, does his route, comes back, walks his dog and goes to a local bar before turning in. All the while he views the world like a poem yet to be written.

It’s a film where (heaven forbid) not much really happens. Paterson’s life is not inherently intriguing, nor is his life that of a struggling artist, but the exquisiteness is found in the dissection of his 9-5. As he drives his bus, he eavesdrops on wonderful soundbites of human interaction. Teenagers discuss anarchy and two dishevelled men contemplate why they haven’t had sex with gorgeous women. Paterson observes respectfully and silently. There’s also a charming relationship Paterson shares with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), an eclectic, creative type with boundless amounts of energy. She bakes cupcakes, paints black and white patterns on everything and comes up with a new life-long ambition each day.

At first glance the tweeness of it all is a bit much. Paterson is good natured, his partner is good natured, even his dog is sort of good natured. However, the film side steps any over-indulgent sentimentality. A lesser film might capitalize on the adorable romance between Paterson and Laura, but Jarmusch has bigger fish to fry. Indeed, everything in this creation is about the nature of creativity in day to day lives that aren’t extraordinary. Laura and Paterson’s juxtaposing creative personalities play in to this theme then. Far from being boring and bijou, their paring is symbolic of something altogether more interesting.

A slow, sometimes even catatonic tale, Paterson is about that most intriguing subject – the artistic soul. But far from far from being absorbed by the gravity the concept might suggest, it unfolds unpretentiously and with tremendous poise.

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What Do We Find Funny About War?

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Funny Bones: The Black Comedy of the War. Now on at the BFI

As part of  ‘The View from the Ground’ season, the BFI (in partnership with the Imperial War Museum) is now screening a selection of the most memorable comedies about the Great War. On show are silent films and early talkies that bring laughter to the squalor of the trenches. It’s squaddie humour about the hopeless private, the dumb generals and the illogicality of war. It’s also morale boosting comedy about men dodging the draft, soldiers dressing up as women for talent shows, and the ridiculousness of life in a muddy, wet trench. But beyond the silly First World War slapstick of Charlie Chaplin and others, there is something deeper to the fascination with humour and battle. British cinema audiences have an enduring love for finding laughter in the arena of combat, but why are we laughing and what are we laughing at?

Understanding what we find funny about war does not necessarily come from looking at just comedy, it also comes from what we find most dramatic and engaging. Recent dramas about modern conflict are probably the most useful signposts. With films like Lone Survivor and American Sniper being churned out, Hollywood seems perfectly happy to consume stories of glamorised heroism and rigid structures of good and bad. However, on the other side of the Atlantic, recent dramas like 2014’s Kajaki suggest distaste to the idea of painting the modern battlefield with any sense of thrill, instead making the subject of its story the problems and faults within the army’s make up. The story of soldiers caught on an old minefield, Kajaki humanises soldiers instead of deifying them, and suggests a lack of any greater cause. It understands that war is hell, but doesn’t label it as some great battle against a faceless evil.

Herein lies what British audiences feel about war. Currently, the central emotion is skepticism. It is abundantly clear that the British public dislikes the concept of war, and is mistrustful of anyone suggesting it. This is reflected in the number of films being made about recent conflict. We don’t feel comfortable with linking heroism and the act of killing, and we don’t believe the army’s decision is always the right one. Thus, it is more comfortable to make fun of the stupidity of war than to accept it as something that we should take pride in and therefore encourage.

So, with skepticism in mind, the humour of British war comedies is found in who the audience associates with, who it doesn’t, and how we feel about what they’re fighting for. For WWI comedies, we laugh at the hopelessness of the private’s situations in Old Bill and Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms, stories of men trudging through mud in a war that seems completely illogical. On the opposite end, we laugh at ridiculed figures of authority – those not on the front line with the ordinary man.

The actuality of war is harsh. Men and women risk their lives for a cause they believe in. Whatever the battlefield, people die and many are injured. A situation so awful needs comedy for so many reasons. It’s needed to understand and sympathise with the ordinary soldier as a human being. While films of WWI may create caricatures of the private, they almost always express some deeper problem about the situation of the men doing the fighting. In retrospect, dark humour about the horror of war is there for us to make fun of it while it’s happening and stop it from ever happening again. More often than not, we are laughing because we are scared of what humanity is capable of.