The end credits in Pavilion mention cinematographer Chris Dapkins right after director Tim Sutton. It’s a fair recognition of how much of its strength the film owes to its gorgeous and moody cinematography. Perhaps closer to video art installation than narrative cinema, Tim Sutton’s debut completely removes any attempt at a storyline, character development, or even dialogue (the sparse conversations are mostly comprised of barely understandable words, softly mumbled by the kids in the film). The closest there is to a main character is Max (Max Schaffner), a somewhat-typical middle class white teenager who lives upstate New York with his mother and, at some point, moves to live with his father someplace in Arizona. Add to these formal elements the film’s use of non-professional actors, and Pavilion could easily be mistaken for a documentary. It certainly walks the thin line that separates fiction from documentary, but trying to define Pavilion in one of these ends of the spectrum would be a great injustice to what is one of the most powerful films about youth to come out in recent years.
While comparisons with Gus Van Sant or Larry Clark will inevitable arise, they should be limited to the subject choice and to a penchant for filming kids riding around on skateboards and bicycles. Gone is the teenage angst, the troublesome woes of your typical coming of age film, any sense of tension or danger. Instead, we are treated with seemingly disjointed moments in these characters’ lives: a late afternoon swim, a stroll through the woods, a midnight skate session on abandoned pipes.
Having said all that, it would be imprecise to describe Pavilion as an immersive spectacle. With its frequent use of long shots and lack of character development or even a plot, Pavilion could be more accurately described as a voyeuristic experience. We are not invited to identify with these kids, but to detachedly observe them — and to be engrossed by the seductive power of the pure cinematographic naturalism that lures us into the lives of Max and his friends. In one moment when a close-up shot is used, we see the legs of a young teenage girl, Max’s crush, as she strolls along the street. In a similar vein, we see a distant shot of her in the woods as she changes her clothes behind a tree. The discovery of love and lust, a common staple to teenage dramas, is merely hinted at in Pavilion; we never get to see the girl again in the film.
We gaze at the gaze of these young male teenagers. There seems to be a latent tone of nostalgia in Pavilion, even when it seems to be trying to capture the feeling of an immediate present, a sensation that so often characterizes youth. Or perhaps it’s just because I know it’s now over, and it’s just my nostalgia that is being projected onto these characters. What am I even talking about? I don’t even miss those times.