Monday, 7 January 2008

Paranoid Park (2007, USA/France, Gus van Sant)

Now that he's signed onto direct 'Milk', the story of California's first openly gay public official, it appears that Gus van Sant has completed his loose quartet of minimalist 'death' films (which included 'Gerry', the Palme D'Or winning 'Elephant' and 'Last Days'), which marked possibly the most creatively period of his career. Van Sant's mainstream films have alternated between the very good and the very poor; one might argue his low-budget efforts are what he excels at, and 'Paranoid Park' is certainly one of the better Van Sant films to date. Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a teenage skateboarder, who is inadvertently involved in the death of a security guard, but what interests Van Sant is the fallout from the death and he concentrates on the unravelling of Alex's life thereafter.

Much of 'Paranoid Park' is familiar from the previous 'death' films, most notably 'Elephant'. There is a preference towards non-linear narratives, use of non-professional actors ('Paranoid Park' advertised for castings on Myspace), sparse and seemingly improvised dialogue, and little explanation of events. Van Sant clearly understands the teenage milieu he films; their fashions, their language, the whole awkwardness of their flirtatons with romance (witness the amusing scene where Alex has sex with his girlfriend for the first time, who then calls her friends from the toilet boasting), and his approach to this is so understated. What 'Paranoid Park' also shares with 'Elephant' is an extended shower scene of a naked teenage boy, with the camera lingering on the boy's torso for several minutes, which can only make you think that Van Sant has something of a fetish in that area.

Van Sant is also reunited with ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle (who also has a small cameo as Alex's uncle), with whom he collaborated on the unfairly maligned remake of Psycho (1998), and he provides a suitably dreamlike and hallucinatory look to the film to accompany Alex's state of numbness and denial after the tragedy he is involved in. Much like the previous films in this cycle, 'Paranoid Park' is certain to alienate some viewers; it really has the same appeal as the other films that have been alluded to. This is cinema without answers or resolutions. 3.5/5

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