Gus Van Sant's attempt to make sense of gun violence in American schools is "so banal that the writer-director could be taking the mickey". Effectively one long tracking shot to Hell, it's no wonder audiences stayed away in droves. Even so, Van Sant took home the Palme d'Or and Best Director prizes at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival - perhaps just further evidence of how pretentious the festival is.
You Snooze, You Lose
If there's one thing more pretentious than a French film festival, it's a film director being interviewed in his bare feet. Honestly, it's almost impossible to keep focused on Van Sant's musings about the art of cinema verité and the causes of teen violence while he's picking the fluffy bits out from between his toes.
Fortunately - or unfortunately - he has little to say that's of genuine interest. He point-blank refuses to offer any suggestions as to what might compel a teenager to blow the brains out of his fellow classmates, instead waffling about the detached documentary style in which he chose to shoot the final scenes of violence. "We thought of it as something very boring," he says, "so we tried to shoot it in a mundane fashion." That's what the evening news is for, Gus!
Somewhere between the pretentiousness of French film festivals and barefoot interviews, lies a featurette called On The Set Of Elephant. Like the movie, it's shot in the verité style, following the cast of teenagers through a day of aimless goofing around between set-ups and filming the occasional aimless scene - most of which involve walking through very long corridors, or across vast football pitches (aimlessly) against the strains of Bach's Sonata No.2 in A Minor. Are you still awake?
The last few minutes of this featurette are the most engaging of the entire enterprise, as the camera follows Van Sant into an editing session. Infinitely more interesting when he's not talking, the fascination lies in the revelation that he edits the old-fashioned way - cutting and pasting reels of celluloid with all the casual dexterity of a Blue Peter presenter. In a word: quaint.
In light of the circumstances, we should perhaps be grateful that Van Sant doesn't offer an audio commentary. As it is, portions of the film dialogue are barely audible - even with the option of Dolby 2.0. Meanwhile the video format feels oppressively drab on DVD. In short, this is one Elephant you'll easily forget.