Monday, October 3, 2011

Gus Van Sant: Youthful Bodies at Rest and in Motion (Restless)

Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Restless, Sony Pictures Classics, 2011.

The meet-cute/disease sub-genre gets a much needed jolt of joy in American master Gus Van Sant's sublime new film, Restless. The deceptive simplicity of the premise is brought forth with a spellbinding immediacy which endears us to the DOA blueprint. Van Sant is among an elite group of helmers who are the only ones capable of making hipsters likable.

Henry Hopper and Mia Wasikowska are perfectly cast as our January lovebirds, both misfits in their Pacific Northwest hometown. They are frustrated teenagers, quirky and from fractured families. He has a Japanese kamikaze pilot imaginary friend. They meet-cute at a funeral, and their sweet courtship is defined in smart, clipped dialogue and lingering medium shots.That we are swept up in its dreamy web attests to its directors courage and power as a film artist.

Van Sant emerged in the 1980s as a force to be reckoned with. His three masterpieces (Drugstore Cowboy, Elephant and Paranoid Park) are devastatingly astute maladies about youth, love and death, his favorite themes. From mainstream (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, Milk) to pseudo-indie (My Own Private Idaho, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, To Die For) to the daringly personal (Mala Noche, Psycho, Gerry, Last Days), he has carved his name into the cinematic consciousness with his utter control of his craft, his instantly recognizable style, and the hypnotic effect of his cumulative effort. He and Larry Clark have located the heart of American youth in all of its fragility and terror.

Which makes him the only director, aside from Clark, who could have turned the typical into triumph. Jason Lew's pared down script, Harris Savides' intoxicating visual mines and Danny Elfman's roving score all back up Van Sant's vision breathlessly. The wisdom of his eyes, fixed on these youthful bodies at rest and in motion, is the main thing. Paying homage to Hal Ashby and his favorite director, Bela Tarr, he transports us with the mystery of his mastery.

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