April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate before the month’s end, we are highlighting a few recent films about poetry. Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson”(2016) is a particular favorite. Set in Paterson, New Jersey, Adam Driver plays a man who also happens to be named Paterson. He’s a bus driver with a penchant for poetic form. He constantly scribbles in his journal, seeking inspiration from his passengers and artist wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). One of the marvelous aspects about Driver’s character is poetry isn’t so much a form of expression for him, but rather a state of mind. His art becomes a way of interacting with the world, as he closely observes overheard bits of conversation, gestures, patterns.
Through the poet’s eye, the world is filled with patterns via observations, daily routines, and also the way his wife devotes herself to pattern-making in her art. The film stresses the wonder of chance occurrences, which give the patterns a certain kind of gestalt. “Paterson” is a mesmerizing and deeply atmospheric film about the everydayness of pursuing one’s art and craft. Driver, too, is so superbly cast. He brings a raw honesty to the work that makes the film particularly revelatory.
“The Kindergarten Teacher” approaches poetry in a diametrically opposed way, but can also serve as a useful companion to Jarmusch’s film. Starring a fantastic and gripping Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lisa, an artiste manquéand kindergarten teacher. She loves the poet’s life, and feels at odds with her husband and internet-savvy teenage children. Lisa begins taking a poetry course at a local college and feels frustrated with her lack of recognition until she oversees a young student of hers reciting a masterful poem that he wrote. In her next class, she passes his words off as her own. Lisa starts to enjoy some of the recognition she’s long felt she deserves, while also imposing herself as her young student’s poetic guide.
The film, simultaneously horrifying and beautiful, is about a woman who seems to idolize the creative life as something superior to the mundane. In so doing, the film suggests she misses out on much of what the mundane life has to offer. The mundane, however, is something “Paterson” relishes. “The Kindergarten Teacher” doesn’t admonish though, and in fact will leaves viewers pondering both the perils of Lisa’s choices in addition to honoring the rarity that is her mentoring.