Jim Jarmusch’s Cannes competition film “Paterson” started to generate excitement when Amazon announced it would be its second-ever original title — but audiences shouldn’t expect fireworks from the film. Jarmusch is the first to say he made a “quiet” film that lacks action and drama.
The story of a bus driver poet played by Adam Driver is remarkably simple and methodical, but the film’s intimacy can be moving, and talk around Cannes positions the film as a Palme d’Or contender. IndieWire sat down with Jarmusch Tuesday to hear about his vision for the movie. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation.
On casting Adam Driver in the lead role:
I didn’t write it thinking of him. This is one of the first films I’ve made where the central characters were cast after I wrote the script. I had seen Adam Driver only in a few things: “Frances Ha,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” two episodes of “Girls,” and I’d read a few interviews with him. I was like, “I want to meet this guy.” Then when I met him I was so convinced [he was right for the role].
On dividing “Paterson” into days of the week:
I thought of this very obvious metaphor of each day of the week being just a slight variation on the preceding one. I’m really obsessed with fractals and variants and repeated patterns, but I love it in human expression, whether it’s the music of Bach or Andy Warhol’s prints. I just love variations, so it was a nice structure.
On whether he considers himself a minimalist:
Minimalism is kind of a hard thing to define because it’s been used as a term to identify certain artistic approaches, so I’m not quite sure what it means anymore. We were trying to make a film that was intentionally slight, without drama, conflict, or action. It was kind of an antidote to victimized females and action and violence and drama and everyone’s personal conflict with each other and their lovers.
On “quiet” films vs. blockbusters:
I like some big movies. I enjoyed “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but there’s room for other kinds of films and I don’t see so many of the quiet ones. I just like details and accumulating details. The film itself is almost observational in the same way that the character is. I just wanted these things to be observed, and then he gathers them and puts them back out in his poems, so it’s just observing small things.
On why he refuses to watch certain movies:
I feel like “Star Wars” culture has been forced on me. I know who Darth Vader is and R2D2 and the plot. I know all about it, [but] I don’t choose to. So as a kind of aging punk rocker, I say, I don’t want your “Star Wars.” You’ve already pushed it on me, so I resist. It’s irrational and snotty and probably not a good quality, but I’m very stubborn. “Gone With the Wind” I have never seen and will never see it. I know the whole story. I know the dialogue, I know what it looks like. Why do I have to know this?
On being an aging punk rocker:
In the punk rock days, our thing was, we don’t trust anything any authority tells us. Why the fuck we should we? We’re always lied to. So I still have a little bit of that in me, always. I’m very distrustful of the mainstream and of authority.
On the film’s connection to poet William Carlos Williams, who wrote the poem “Paterson”:
You don’t have to know anything about William Carlos Williams to see the movie. If you do know William Carlos Williams, then maybe the movie has a little more richness to it. And also maybe somebody who’s never heard of William Carlos Williams might see our movie and then go and find out about it, which would be something good we did. But it’s not didactic.
On the diversity of the cast:
Paterson is incredibly diverse. It had a history of Irish and Italians [and] it has a huge African-American population, Central American, South American, Mexican, Asian, and particularly Middle Eastern. It has the largest population of Middle Eastern people in the U.S. except for Dearborn, Michigan, so I thought I’d like to recognize that somehow. I went to a high school with a graduating class of almost 1,000 people and they were all white, and there was one Jewish person. It was very different [than Paterson], but all my life I ran away from that and I live in New York City where everyone speaks every language all around me and I love that.
On being a “cultural vampire”:
I’m a dilettante, and that’s not a negative thing to me. I don’t know everything about one thing, but I know a little bit about a lot of things, because to me the world is just too fascinating. I study birds. I forage for mushrooms and analyze them. I listen to all kinds of music. I read books from different countries. I can’t get enough of all these things. Some people would call that a pretentious dilettante, [but] I’m proud to say that’s what I am. I’m just very appreciative of all these things.
On choosing the score for the movie:
I love electronic music and I’ve never had it in my films as a score and I sort of studied—as a dilettante—the history of electronic music and I love it so much, so I was trying a lot of music by different bands like Boards of Canada or Brian Eno. It’s ambient, dreamy stuff.
On digital technology and the changing nature of distributing movies:
I have an acceptance of things I can’t change. I love David Lynch’s about looking at films on an iPhone. He is so angry and he just rails against it, and I agree with him completely, but we’re older guys that love films on a big screen. We can’t change this [and] I can’t fight that. It’s like shooting digitally. This is the second film where I’ve used digital photography. It’s just a tool. You can write with a pencil or on a laptop, but the words are the same.