Anaphora is an on-going series of video essays exploring the neglected films by major directors. Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park (2007) is showing May 17–June 15, 2019 on MUBI in the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland as part of the series Cannes Takeover.
Gus Van Sant can be a difficult director for which to wave the flag at present. You just never know if he’ll be making a pleasant if weightless drama designed to play endlessly on cable channels in need of harmless programming or if he’s going to make the single most haunting film you’ll see in a given year. After almost a decade of not-quites and outright critical disasters, he made Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot, which looked like a run-of-the-mill inspirational movie but in fact contained some of his most engaged and empathetic filmmaking to date, housed a murderer’s row of astonishing performances from unlikely dynamos, and put a bow on the addiction narratives with which he began his career. Every time you think you’ve got him figured out, he throws a curve ball.
Paranoid Park doesn’t appear all that different on its face from Gerry (2002), Last Days (2005) and Elephant (2003), but Van Sant tapers off some of the formal rigor in favor of a sensual daydreaming quality and the result is both like and unlike anything he’d ever done. Coming off of a project of movies that create worlds of tension through unbroken takes and mesmeric action, Paranoid Park seemed almost like Breathless in its rootless grammar and medium hopping. He was doing things in the obvious subjective after ignoring it for so long. It’s thrilling to see someone rediscover the tools with which they used to craft their early body of work and Paranoid Park was most certainly a return to the narcotized romance of My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989) suffused with the detective story through line of To Die For (1995). It was far quieter and more introspective than his early work but it was purely his, a meshing of his two schools and periods, a marriage of two sides of an artist.