Relentlessly somber, with the eruptions of teen violence rendered in a hushed style, Gus Van Sant's Elephant—his response to the Columbine shootings—is an art-house version of an exploitation picture. It's very skillfully made, with warm cinematography by Harris Savides that provides a visual and tonal counterpoint to the affectless interactions of the adolescent characters, and with a restless camera that roams the halls of a monstrous glass-and-concrete high school.

The camerawork, which tracks one kid after another in a way that's meant to seem as random as the shootings, recalls High School, the classic 1969 documentary by Frederick Wiseman about life in a big, impersonal school. But Van Sant's approach is the opposite of Wiseman's: he lays out everything with fiendish deliberation.


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