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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I, Daniel Blake (Loach. 2016)

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Political activist, auteur and custodian of Britain’s kitchen sink, Ken Loach has reeled in a second Palme d’Or for his latest parable. A typically savage and angry comment on the inner workings of Britain’s benefits system, I, Daniel Blake is a humanist story about the reduction of people to numbers and blips on a spreadsheet in today’s world. Fuelled by the director’s trademark socialist principles and dedication to realism, it’s an efficient attack on the current Conservative government and a cry for change. It’s an emotional, topical melodrama with all the hallmarks of its esteemed director. However, one can’t help but feel this is just another nuts-and-bolts assembly for him.

Much like his 1966 classic, Cathy Come Home, the new film is a succinct story of the ordinary person being trodden on by forces beyond their control. The ordinary man in question here is a 59 year old woodworker called Dan (Dave Johns). When Dan has a heart attack, he is told he can’t work by his doctors. In the ensuing panic, he finds himself struggling through the bureaucratic mess of Britain’s welfare system. He finds himself being told wrongfully he is ‘fit for work’ by health workers, being bamboozled by countless forms and ignored by the upper echelons of the system. In his confused stagger through a broken system, he finds friendship in young mum Katie (Hayley Squires), realising that human kindness must prevail over the cold hand of the state.

And that’s always something Loach has been fond of. In the harsh world his characters are examples of the gentleness in humanity. Dan is almost insurmountably kind, good-humoured and pleasant, complemented by a solid performance from Hayley Squires, whose character’s struggle to keep afloat never overruns her drive to care for those close to her.

There are points though, when the film feels almost stiflingly ‘Loachian’. When the film begins with a dispassionate healthcare professional arguing with Dan over the phone, there’s this familiar feeling of being ushered efficiently into what is a political rally cry above all else . No doubt a lot of love, care and research has been put in, but this is Loach evoking familiar emotions through familiar methods.  For instance, he and writer Laverty reduce all characters to the usual binary of good and bad, bludgeoning the audience with the idea of the evil, gigantic government against the inherent goodness of the average Joe. Dan’s trips to the application centre depict an emotionally disconnected force of workers who lack any sense of humanity. It’s damning of the system. However, we’ve seen it all before from the creative duo.

That’s not to say that Loach’s films are not necessary and I, Daniel Blake not incredibly current and important, it’s that this sort of social realism by numbers feels to fall short of what might be possible. It’s as if Loach is the man shouting through loudspeakers at a Jeremy Corbyn rally. The messages may be powerful and their sentiments true, but the form has become a little redundant and blinding amid the noise. This social realist melodrama that the director has been doing for years is now a little archaic. The tropes are so recognisable that the impact he may want is simply not there.

I’ Daniel Blake is by all accounts, a necessary film. It’s a required dissection of a system that has ruined and will continue to ruin lives if not looked at. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that this film is a case of going through the motions, with Loach’s political voice dominating his creative voice and drowning what could be both much more innovative and impacting.

 

Frances Ha (2012. Noah Baumbach)

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The story of liberal, middle class young people not achieving in the city has been done before. Films of the mumblecore genre like “Tiny Furniture” come to mind.  However, Baumbach’s creation appears less like a mumblecore story of underachievement and more like a social comedy by Woody Allen. The dialogue has a cracking wit to it and Greta Gerwig is remarkably charming as Frances, dawdling through New York with a wonderful ignorance of the real world.

The characters Frances comes up against are at times awful. The socialites, the couples, the urbanites and middle class of New York bring out some comically arrogant and absurd caricatures. It deserved a little more though. It needed A little more nastiness and less of the tweeness that often comes with the mold of American indie comedy.