Off the Map

Gus Van Sant gets lost, but beautifully.

I never agreed with people who claimed Gus Van Sant went Hollywood after the whimsy OD of the Northwest-bred calamity Even Cowgirls Get the Blues nearly killed his career. His un-Hollywood movies always had big-time class and gloss, and his Hollywood efforts have retained his old indie theme: Outsiders casting about for alterna-families.

Most viewers will deem his latest, Gerry (which runs Friday, March 21 through Thursday, March 27 at the Varsity), a throwback to indie-style disaster. It's a kind of homage to B鬡 Tarr, the master of sparse narrative, pitilessly long takes, and what critic J. Hoberman calls "visionary miserablism." Gerry tells the sparse tale of two guys (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck), a two-man ad hoc family, who drive deep into the deserton a pilgrimage to what they call "The Thing"and get miserably lost. They call each other Gerry, their slangy term for "screwup," and screw up they do. After encountering some fellow hikers, they take a detour off the path, because, as Affleck's character explains, "I just can't handle fanny packs and single moms, the whole bit."

It's a metaphor for Van Sant's abhorrence for the boring mainstream, and he's never gotten further off the path than Gerry. The improvisatory script consists of practically nothing but random, nervous small talkplausible to anyone who's been lost in the outdoors. And much walking, excellently photographed in Argentina, Death Valley, and at the Great Salt Lake by cinematographer Harris Savides. That's one reason I'm glad I stayed put during Van Sant's most perversely audience-nonpleasing movieit's beautiful, like the thunderous, rapturous nature shots in Breaking the Waves. But Gerry is more than nature porn. It takes us beyond words and story into a moving, meditative state of pure landscape imagery. And it's got a striking family resemblance to Van Sant's previous work. Don't get mad at me if you hate it, but I advise you to see it fast, because a film this slow won't be around for long.

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