Sunday, March 30, 2008
Paranoid Park ***
Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen
Jake Miller, Daniel Liu, Lauren McKinney
Paranoid Park is a skate park in Oregon populated by homeless people, junkies and the teenagers who become infatuated with this sense of freedom they don't have in mainstream parks and their homes.
Among them is Alex (Nevins) whose parents are divorcing and is under constant pressure from his girlfriend (Momsen). Going to Paranoid Park for the first time with his friend Jared (Miller) he discovers a breathtaking world where he can fit by being himself; which, in a Van Sant film has nothing to do with more traditional connotations.
While the film industry has gotten us used to watching the problems of teenagers who have popularity, love and selfimage issues, Alex's problems come as a more existential dilemma.
One night while travelling in a freight train with a stranger (Scott Patrick Green) he just met in Paranoid Park he accidentally becomes responsible for the death of a security guard.
Later when a detective (Liu) begins to interrogate the "skating community" in his school, Alex becomes worried about the weight of his secret.
"Paranoid Park" never becomes some sort of police drama or murder mystery, since we already know what happened. The substance behind it lies in the choices made by the director and how Alex's experience isn't as alienating as it is revealing.
He asks a friend (McKinney) what would she do when she has something troubling her and when she asks what did he do, he pulls back slowly.
Later he phones his dad (Jay Williamson) but once the phone starts ringing he hangs up (this incident later leads to a very Van Sant moment, other directors probably would've dismissed or exploited).
Alex begins to write in his journal and as he proceeds with his normal life we realize that besides the criminal implications of what he did, his real problem lies in how to make it surface into a world he's so unfamiliar with.
The skating culture in a way is some sort of secret world with distinctive codes and rules that don't apply to all other aspects of people's lives and the film focuses on what happens when both worlds suddenly intersect.
Alex doesn't really know what crime he will be accused of, or even if he will be accused of something, but the guilt seeps into his mind at all times giving, non professional actor, Nevins an opportunity to expose what's going on behind the thoughts of a population we really don't know.
His disaffecting voice, the lethargy with which he moves and his ability to sound bluntly sincere even when he's not looking at your eyes creates a full sense of character. As inner as these actions might be, they're rising from a deeper level.
Van Sant is at his best when he tries to interpret this world. Teamed with brilliant cinematographer Christopher Doyle they shoot skating sequences with a complete sense of wonder.
Some are shot in 35 and 8 mm which give them a nostalgic, homely touch, while in the most beautiful ones, the jumps and techniques are shown in slow motion.
Several wide angles give us a sense of being underwater, the people move without restrictions and at the same time are limited by some invisible matter we don't perceive.
Van Sant dives into this like Cousteau and when later he uses music from Fellini films with full self awareness of how strange the combination is, we realize that to him, like to us, this is a completely uncharted territory.