Driver is the “Girls” television actor whose career went intergalactic playing Kylo Ren in the 2015 blockbuster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
In “Paterson,” though, the change is radical: Driver plays a bus driver with a poetic streak.
It is Jarmusch’s seventh feature in competition at global cinema’s top showcase and one of 21 pictures in the running this year for the Palme d’Or, to be awarded on Sunday.
The movie tells the story of a former soldier called Paterson, who shares the name of his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey.
Paterson lives with his wife Laura (Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani) and their English bulldog Marvin in a modest house on a quiet street.
He sticks to his routines of rising early, heading to work, walking Marvin and a having a beer at his regular bar.
But there is an artist inside him waiting to break out and he uses stolen moments to work on his poetry rooted in daily life.
Laura for her part is a traditional housewife but with a hippie soul, painting the surfaces of their home in intricate black-and-white patterns and dreaming of launching a cupcake empire or becoming a country singer.
– Questions without answers –
Jarmusch presents a deceptively simple plot with a tender love story at its heart.
But he gives his quirky style free reign, with the couple’s mischievous dog and a pair of anarchist teens borrowed from the Wes Anderson film “Moonrise Kingdom” drawing big laughs.
“Paterson” garnered positive reviews, with The Guardian calling the movie a “quiet delight… which celebrates small-town life and dreams without patronising.”
Driver said he had to put the action from “Star Wars” to one side to create a character who mainly observes.
“I think that the script itself was already so strong and the characters so clear that I think the biggest thing I tried to do was not get in the way of it… to try to force it into something that it didn’t want to be,” Driver said.
“Jim puts things in his movies that asks a question and doesn’t answer it, which I obviously think is great and true to life.”
Jarmusch, whose previous films include “Ghost Dog” and “Only Lovers Left Alive”, said Driver’s military background — he served in the US Marines for two years after volunteering in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks — fit the character.
“I was very struck by the idea that… he’s an artist and he has experience in the military,” he said.
“These two things are very impressive to me because it’s breaking any kind of cliche. He’s very balanced and he understands different sides of the world and of people.”
Jarmusch is also premiering a documentary at Cannes this week about punk idols Iggy Pop and the Stooges, “Gimme Danger.”