Paranoid Park

Scott Green/IFC Films
Gus Van Sant/France-United States 2007

In Paranoid Park, slow-motion montages capture the disaffected youth of a Pacific Northwestern city as they traverse the concrete slopes of a skate park. Lengthy tracking shots follow an individual through his daily life, and the entire production seems drenched in a dreamy haze. It is, in other words, another day at the office for writer-director Gus Van Sant, perhaps the most accomplished chronicler of the loneliness and alienation rampant among the young men and women populating the snowy mountains, idyllic cities and unspoiled forests of the region. While the movie will try the patience of anyone not already a sworn Van Sant aficionado, those more accustomed to his oeuvre will find it every bit as hypnotic a tale as the director’s best work.

Comprised of unknowns cast – as were the stars of Elephant – off of MySpace and the like, the picture follows teenage skateboarder Alex (Gabe Nevins) as he embarks on an introspective journey after accidentally causing a man’s death. This consists of extended mournful reflection, rendered in long takes of the protagonist collapsed in grief during a shower and an abundance of imagery meant to set him apart from his carefree contemporaries. The narrative largely unfolds in strains of silence, as Alex disappears into his own psychologically tormented state, save for the occasional intrusions from the outside world and his rapidly fading former life.

Aesthetically, Van Sant adheres to his characteristic visual style, which owes an enormous debt (as the director admitted in an article in The Guardian and elsewhere) to the work of photographer William Eggleston. With pop-cultural detritus strewn across the frame and suburban streets lent an ethereal glow, the filmmaker presents a world at once wholly familiar and completely imagined. The movie is perfectly pitched at 78 minutes; the brevity allows Van Sant to keep the various shortcomings at bay and Paranoid Park never falls victim to his more repetitive inclinations. It’s a motion picture swept up in a dreamlike concoction of youthful indiscretions, strong emotions and the isolation latent in torn lives lived amidst rolling natural splendor.

© 2008 Robert Levin. All rights reserved.

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