If you'd have told me that the Jim Jarmusch film about the bus driver who moonlights as a poet was going to be my favorite film at Cannes I would have been in utter disbelief (assuming you had a good history of predicting these things which is why I'd asked you in the first place).
About half-way through this beautiful film I started to repeat to myself, "Please don't turn into a movie. Please don't turn into a movie." And by that I meant "Please don't suddenly introduce a plot contrivance that advances the narrative."
It never happens.
This is a film that 10, 20 years from now, when an artist has lost faith in themselves, their medium, in the world, in the power of others to inspire us, a friend of theirs will sit them down and make them watch Paterson. And they will be healed.
But, thanks to his fine leads in Dave Johns as Daniel Blake, a carpenter trying to get injured worker's assistance, and Haley Squires as the single mother struggling to survive, he has his most human, humorous and clear-eyed films in a long, long time.
Sure, we all knew that after Rust and Bone, Two Days, One Night, etc. but here it's akin to what she pulled off in her Oscar-winning performance in La Vie en Rose.
She plays Gabrielle an unbalanced young woman forced into an arranged marriage. When she ends up in a spa to regain her health she meets a young French soldier and falls in love for the first time in her life.
The film has a problematic third act (the kind that works well in a novel but not so hot on screen) but Cotillard shines. When we first meet her character, she's a love-besotted schoolgirl, about the age when we first meet Edith Piaf singing in cabarets in La Vie en Rose. But that film was almost a decade ago. We know intuitively that Cotillard is no schoolgirl. But minutes into her portrayal of an impulsive, romantic woman-child she has us believing she is. Later she transforms herself into a fully-mature wife and mother yet a woman crushed by despair and loss.
The tears that runs down her face at this stage are hot tears, not just excess water squeezed out through extra ducts on command. They are tears of agony and pain.
Ultimately Loving is such an act of self-restraint on the part of director Jeff Nichols that it seems more like a missed opportunity than the teed-up, presumptive triumph one would have suspected. Yet, for it's coolness, the film leaves a haunting remnant of reality in its wake.
Dramatic turns and outbursts don't happen in the film and the performances, particularly by Ruth Negga, are stripped quite naked to stand on their own. Fortunately, they do.
It's a quiet film about people who just wanted to go on with their lives and were more concerned with raising their kids than making a statement. That we want something different from it and from them says more about us.