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Dramas > Paranoid Park (Gus Van Zant, 2008)

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message 1: by Phillip (last edited Jan 20, 2009 09:05PM) (new)

Phillip | 10615 comments Paranoid Park (Gus Van Zant, 2008)

a minimum of SPOILERS, i promise!

Somehow Gus Van Zant had the time to make two really fine films in 2008. Along with MILK, the excellent biopic on the life and times of Harvey Milk, Van Zant occupied his home turf (the Pacific Northwest) and shot Paranoid Park in Portland Oregon.

It's a beautiful film to watch thanks to Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer that graced several of Wong Kar-Wei's gorgeous movies (Chung King Express, In the Mood for Love, etc.). Van Zant seems to have great empathy for the characters in this film and the photography reflects their state of grace without falling prey to sentimentality.

Paranoid Park begins with a boy named Alex who has a story to tell. He uses a journal and the text from his musings flows gently in voice-over. The narrative moves in fits and starts and uses looping (repeating) effects to register the way Alex reviews his story - much the way we fuss and fidget with the past when we have a burden to confess and no one we can trust to listen. The film works its way through and around his consciousness until the principal action is revealed in a series of flashbacks, memories and confessions.

Paranoid Park is a place where Portland's skaters and homeless teens hang out. Alex is led to the park by a friend to watch, make a try when he feels up to it, and meet other kids. The scenes of the skateboarding reflect a free-floating state of mind the kids dwell in and there are some great skaters on hand to conjure some gravity-defying play. Eventually Alex meets a few kids who steer him into an event that comes to haunt Portland and our hero.

Alex lives his life and tries to maintain a normal teenage existence. He floats his way through classes, chit chats with pals, becomes a sexual conquest for his girlfriend, who seems much more interested in whatever social status she might gain from hooking up than achieving any real intimacy. His broken family and fragmented existence is the stuff of contemporary childhood - trying to maintain his identity in the face of a divorce and, for the most part, absent parents.

Paranoid Park is a fine film by Gus Van Zant that harkens to earlier efforts like Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho (along with later films like Elephant), in that it examines a culture of lost youth. The performances are perfectly suited to the story, the environment, and the ambient tone of the movie. There are some great tunes floating around in the soundtrack - both minimalist electronic music (which reflect the looping and fragmented narrative) and there are some tracks composed by Nino Rota for Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits that are well-suited to the central theme of the film. The movie maintains a fine sense of mystery and does what so few films do - allows audiences to assemble their own resolutions in the end.


message 2: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Great review Phillip! This made my Top Ten list this year, so here's my review:

PARANOID PARK (Gus Van Sant, 2007, USA) 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)


message 3: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10615 comments good one alex - yeah, the example you give about the son tuning his father out is part of what i tried to describe when i said the film's narrative reflects the young man's consciousness - this is at play throughout the film, and also as you said, there are no glimpses of authorial judgement - just telling the story in such a way so style=subject.


message 4: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Jan 22, 2009 05:18AM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Phillip, check out LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, a Thai film by a director whose name is too long to type:) he also directed 6IXTYNIN9 (yes, that's the correct spelling) and INVISIBLE WAVES which are also pretty good. I believe Netflix has LAST LIFE but I picked up a region 3 copy last year.


message 5: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10615 comments alex,

great, i don't know any of those films...i'll look for them. what is the general stylistic/thematic direction in those?


message 6: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Jan 22, 2009 08:57AM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Very introspective and visual, reminiscent of Wong-kar Wai.


message 7: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10615 comments i'm there. thanks for recommending them!


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