Sadly, culturemonkey's coverage of the 45th New York Film Festival is a bit of a joke. This year featured a number of anticipated films, many screened for the first time in North America, a few world premieres, and enough 'local' filmmakers for the press to announce the return of the New York Auteur. For a general overview of all the films, Slant Magazine's capsule reviews are almost finished. Reverse Shot and has several full-length features up, and House Next Door has a sidebar full of posts. Your favorite film blog, or print magazine if you still read those, no doubt has a roughly equal amount of relevant content (assuming it's any good). But we are not real film critics. We are intellectuals. That said, if you would prefer we do some real festival coverage in the future, we are open to funding proposals and travel deals.
While I had a chance to see two of the NYFF's big three -- The Darjeeling Limited, No Country For Old Men, and Persepolis, I passed them all up in favor of three lesser-known films for reasons that were entirely contingent (of course, this being the NYFF, 'lesser-known' just means they won't play at your local AMC). Spoilers follow.
Elephant, Last Days, and now Paranoid Park -- manage to portray the world of high school-aged youth in a way that is hyper-idealized but not false, and most importantly not condescending, not using their specific milieu to achieve or say something else (though the material is there for other things to be said). Last Days might seem like a digression as it is ostensibly about Kurt Cobain, but Kurt Cobain had his biggest effect on high school-age youth, and this is the perspective the film takes, more about his mythology than his life. In a culture where 'adolescent' is an insult more or less equated with corporate Hollywood's worst impulses, for a middle-aged man to tell sympathetic stories about teen angst is probably more difficult than telling them about children. Helmed by Christopher Doyle, the cinematography in Paranoid Park develops an ethereal, even pastoral vision of a Portland occupied by a group of skateboarders shuttling back and forth between high school and the eponymous skate park. The flat affectlessness of Van Sant's young male protagonists this time around is countered by snippets of the lead's letter to an imagined female audience in the form of a confessional, posing throughout the film as interior monologue. The dialogue has a clipped, perfunctory feel to it that suggests it too is a part of the written account. Unlike Elephant and Last Days, Paranoid Park takes a subjective, written document as its basis, rather than an 'objective,' sensationalized media event; also, this document is fictional, a novel. This results in a more conventional plot that allows for the most direct presentation of what Van Sant has been doing all this time -- transforming traumatic events into visual and aural fantasias that, by distancing us from any logic imposed by adult authority figures (journalists, police, teachers, psychologists, novelists, etc.), allow the viewer to experience it in a safe space free of bombardment by media cliches, in some sense rediscovering objectivity. That this experience tends to be private and incommunicable is Paranoid Park's chief thematic concern. Alex, the protagonist/narrator, grapples with his involvement in the death of a security guard whose gruesome end splits the film in half, causing him to go about his life fractured, numbed, by a secret he can't tell. Here we are confronted with the paradox of the internalized trauma -- Doubling as a stand-in for the viewer, Alex is only able to maintain a real connection to himself (his emotions, his safety, his identity) in the face of horror by keeping his memory of it locked away from others, thus alienating himself from the rest of the world; and yet this secret grants him a unique fascination, the allure that makes him a subject for the camera and its audience. The fantasy of both the film and novel is that by expressing himself in writing, then destroying it (as he does in a bonfire near the end of the film), he can arrive at a sort of compromise. Van Sant exposes the truth of so-called adolescence here, at the point where its 'immaturity' presents us with what at times seems like the only practical solution to the mediasphere's insatiable urge to erase every human tragedy with sensationalist platitudes. In the Q&A following the screening, Van Sant called Paranoid Park a "Young Adult film," and this seems like the most appropriate genre heading to me.