Pavilion (2012)

Directed by Tim Sutton

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Tim Sutton’s movies are visual poems, sparse and distant.  His characters are people we regard from afar, often non actors playing a part that surely overlaps with who they are in everyday life.

Pavilion is a brief movie (70 minutes) that takes place in upstate New York and somewhere in Arizona.  It’s as much about those places as the teenagers who inhabit them.  The movie, through one kid’s geographical move, ties the locations together, and in noticing the similarities between aimless youthful antics, we get a sense of the bigger picture.

This isn’t quite a coming of age film, but it’s in that direction.  We watch kids whose perspective is much more limited than our own.  We know they’re mired in a daze out of which they will likely grow, but they do not.  To them it’s their life.  They are trapped because they’re too young to drive, but even if they could, it’s doubtful they know where to go.

They end up milling about the same areas, dirt lots adjacent to freeways, motel parking lots, maybe even the lake if someone’s mom will take them out.  They are painfully familiar depictions of what it’s like to be a teenager.

A lot of the appeal of this movie is seen in recent ones like The Florida Project, American Honey and Boyhood.  The story is never concerned with plot because neither are its characters.  They approach the moment without much in mind.  It comes, does what it may and moves on.

It’s summer, hence the amplified aimlessness.  We follow around one kid with the type of long hair you might still have on your driving license depending on when it was taken.  I don’t remember much about him because before you know it we’re following around a different character.

This one is tall, slim and self-assured.  He has a girlfriend of sorts with whom he treks around the upstate New York wilderness.  Their relationship is ambiguous and quite joyous.  As an audience member who enjoyed this film I’m guessing I was having a much better time than they were, if only because I knew the significance of the moment was that it would soon pass.

There is an appropriately jarring cut from the lush evening forrest to the middle of an arid day in Arizona.  We look at the same kid we just saw, only know he wanders around on a bike, looking for anything to do.

We might feel a sense of loss, knowing he had to up and move away from all his friends and a girl he had a close relationship with, but he doesn’t.  Or if he does, he doesn’t realize it.

The kid does experience a sense of longing but only to fill the boredom.  He lives with his father in a motel, left mostly to his own devices.  This means he watches tv, bikes around, then returns home to watch more tv.  One night he looks out his window and watches a group of kids skateboarding, and soon enough he will be one of them.

Later we follow around one of these other children and soon after that a slightly older teenager who works at Target.  We get a sense of how they carry themselves, how their environment has partially shaped them but at the same time the limits of geographical differences.

These teenagers are all endearingly the same.  They are uncomfortable, aimless, carefree, reckless and full of emotions they don’t know how to handle.  That doesn’t mean their lack of cognitive development leads to trouble.  Instead it’s just there to be reckoned with, and they do so quietly.  You see is in their eyes, in vacant expressions or the decision to walk away.

Pavilion is an extremely quiet movie.  It’s been compared to a few Gus Van Sant works, but Sutton’s 2016 film Dark Night is much more comparable to one of those Van Sant films, 2003’s Elephant.

He has a clear style here, an objective view of something he deems real.  It’s a slice of life, filmed like a documentary, often from a distance and with a strict refusal to interfere, impinging on the moment with music or a particularly stylish shot.  The cinematography is beautiful, but it serves the film’s purpose to recreate reality as Sutton sees it.  In this way the cinematography is invisible, same as good editing.

Up Next: Medicine for Melancholy (2008), True Grit (2010), The Lookout (2007)

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