Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Paranoid Park (Gus van Sant, 2007)

Les Cahiers du cinema, France's premiere film journal, named Gus van Sant's Paranoid Park their favorite film of 2007. It also won the 60th Anniversary Prize and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year. Those amount to a pretty darn good pedigree for this film, but I have a love-hate relationship with van Sant. At his best (Elephant, To Die For), he documents the dark side of the outsider; at his worst (Last Days, parts of Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho), he's boring and pretentious. So where would Paranoid Park fit into this rubric? Thankfully, it's his best film ever.

Like with Elephant, van Sant used almost all amateur actors to portray the inhabitants of this teenage world. Alex, played near-perfectly by Gabe Nevins, is a Portland high school skateboarder who is invited by his friend to Paranoid Park, a skateboard park where the punk kids, the homeless kids, the kids who are unwanted go (Alex has a wonderful interior monologue about however bad your family situation is, these kids have it worse). When he goes on his own one Saturday night, he decides to go freight train-riding with a guy he just met. When a security guard tries to stop them, Alex accidentally kills him, and then spends the rest of the movie trying to cope with his actions, accidental though they were.

van Sant tells the story through the framework of Alex's writings about the event. He's not particularly brilliant, or eloquent, or even that good at showing his emotions. Alex is a normal teenage boy, and Nevins' lack of emoting is perfect for the role. When Alex does break down, then, it's even more devastating. The plot is thin, but not to the detriment of the movie. There are long, slow-motion, lyrical shots of skateboarding and kids walking down their school's hallways, among other things. Some have (perhaps rightfully so at times) called these boring; I think they were hypnotic and illuminating. van Sant has taken the exploration of one's interior life that he stalled with in Last Days, and perfected it here. All the teenagers are natural, even when they seem unnatural. The progression of guilt from Alex's insides to his relationships with his family and friends is devastating, and emotionally resonating. van Sant has made his best film 20 years into his career; I hope he keeps it up. But knowing him, he'll make a completely different film next time. I expect no less.


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