Paranoid Park (2007)

8 10 2008

Every now and then I see a film that I cannot even begin to wrap my head around. This is such a film. Now, obviously, Gus Van Sant has been working towards something like this with his “death” trilogy, but those films, as good as they are, are clearly Tarr tributes/homages. This, on the other hand, is something completely new, not only for Van Sant, but for cinema in general. Of course there are many cinematic reference points (which I’ll bring up later in this review) but overall, this is one of the most original and exciting movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s too early to tell, but it is quite possible that this will become the defining movie for the next generation of cinema.

Okay, so all of this sounds a bit preposterous, but that seems accurate, the film is sort of preposterous in its own way. The story line, which isn’t all that essential, elliptically illustrates a small couple of months in the life of the 16 year old Alex. The superficial plot point is provided when he accidentally kills a security guard, something he chooses to hide from the rest of the world. Of course, the guilt begins to eat away at him. This sounds a bit unremarkable, but the outline of the film’s story makes up very little of its substance.

So far, all I’ve established is that this is indeed a “minimalistic” movie and indeed it is, but not simply that. Van Sant has taken ques from Tarr and even Tsai for sure, but he also eloquently (not to mention brilliantly) mixes this aesthetic with grainy 8mm footage (a nod to his friend Korine?) and French ambient music. Perhaps this all sounds like some sort of “art film” parody on paper, but on celluloid, it’s nothing short of amazing. I would compliment Van Sant on his ability to capture a certain atmosphere, but that sounds like an understatement. It helps a good deal that I’m still in high school, but aside from certain technicalities, this mostly rings true in a way very few coming-of-age films do, let alone most high school movies.

There’s not too many art film-fueled high schoolers out there (trust me) but I suppose being one certainly helps in this instance. I’d imagine that the entire film would feel extremely uncomfortable and awkward for anyone outside of the generational gap, or at least to those not interested in this generation. At first, I was even a little turned off. There’s quite a lot of underacting here for starters and even lead Gabe Nevins doesn’t come out untouched. The awkward feeling, though, is 100% reflective of the content in a way that most mumblecore films only hope to be. In Mutual Appreciation, which is certainly a fine film, there is a sense of consciousness in the characters’ interactions, there is anything but here. Young adults might be a little bit more forgiving about conversations with the shy and alienated, but teenagers aren’t. The thing is, it’s not exactly the character who are feeling uncomfortable with one and other, but instead, their whole generation alienating everyone else.

Maybe it would be good to come back down to Van Sant’s atmosphere rather than continue on with the sociological issues presented by the current generation of teenagers, but the latter is what I want to do while watching this. Again, it’s not like the technical choices are completely new, but they are blended together to max something that feels so in-tone with present day. In other words, the best visual style to compliment the unaltered way in which Van Sant presents modern life. A perfect example of “unaltered” would be the previously mentioned “awkward” scenes. It’s presented as is with the usual poetic flair of Christopher Doyle and not one part of the film seems remotely exaggerated. Every single scene rings true – emotionally AND visually. The latter sounds odd, but there is something so beautiful about Doyle’s super-sensory-driven visuals when they are placed with Van Sant’s observational style. To make things simple, it feels accurate in a way that seems completely new.

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3 responses

19 10 2008
Jesse

best part about this film is when his little brother explains napoleon dynamite.

this film worked well enough, but I don’t think it achieved the same level that some of van sant’s other films did. namely elephant, which gets a lot of crap, but which I think was the perfect coming together of van sant’s techniques and themes.

19 10 2008
Jake Savage

I like Elephant a lot too, more than most people, but I feel like he took the best parts of that movie and made it something more emotionally substantial with Paranoid Park. The former is a bit too formally-minded and I think Paranoid Park is a more formally experimental movie anyway.

Nice to hear from you, by the way.

14 08 2012
Evl Keith

I agree with you about it being very light on story. I think with films that are purely based on atmosphere it is all down to personal taste whether you like an individual film or not. For example, I love Jean Rollin films, all really slow but atmospheric. The Beyond is one of my favourite films for its atmosphere alone. I can’t say that I liked Paranoid Park at all, but I can see why people would.

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