Tuesday, May 20, 2008

PARANOID PARK (Gus Van Sant, 2007, USA) If you’ve read the plot synopsis from Netflix then you already know what happens. But Gus Van Sant is never satisfied with the details describing an action, he is concerned with the ramifications: the justifications, self-delusions, and guilt that we carry after a destructive action. In his latest film, he explores the emotional burden that young Alex carries after a stupid, fatal decision takes the life of a security guard. There is no malice, no judgment by any character (especially the director), only a very personal voyeuristic glimpse into his relationships, which are tainted by his guilty conscience. The camerawork by Christopher Doyle (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE) is exceptional; he transitions between characters and flashbacks with varying film stock, soft-focus, and slow-motion photography as we experience the mood and tension of the narrative. The dialogue is often obtuse and realistic, not concerned with exposition and often at odds with the visual cues. It leaves the viewer slightly vertiginous. One scene in particular was truly effective: as Alex’s father speaks to him in his garage about the divorce, the camera’s sharp focus is on Alex in close-up…but his father is buried in the soft blur of the background, completely out-of-focus. It’s the visual equivalent of “tuning someone out”. The disquieting frisson, the brief violent event is unforgettable; it has been on my mind for days. And here is the power of the story; it is about how Alex feels and responds to the event. We are left to ponder his decision and involve ourselves in this emotional conflict. Gus Van Sant’s films require audience participation and I urge you to join in: you may just learn something about yourself. (A)

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