Teen tragedy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 12:00am

Gus Van Sant's latest film, Elephant, is a stunning and truthful adaptation of the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999. The film's breathtaking final scenes haunt you long after you've left the cinema and make you wonder: 'How could this really have happened?'

This powerful film and its skilled director deservedly won the prestigious Palm d'Or and best director awards at last year's Cannes International Film Festival.

Elephant's non-judgmental take on the incident, and its clever manipulation of time and space, make it an unforgettable film.

The storyline is simple: two high-school misfits, Eric (Eric Deulen) and Alex (Alex Frost), who enjoy violent video games, guns and watching footage of Hitler, walk into their school one day with rifles and shoot their schoolmates, teachers and the principal.

The whole incident takes place in perhaps

15 to 20 minutes, but Van Sant cleverly turns it into a one-and-a-half-hour feature. Cinematographer Harris Savides follows various students around the campus, filming the same scenes from their different perspectives.

The film is shot in an indie style and Van Sant does not present his point of view or offer any explanations or judgments. Unlike many Hollywood movies, the events are not sensationalised at all. While the film is an adaptation of real-life events and not a documentary, it manages to present a much more objective view than many documentaries.

Van Sant allows the events to unfold calmly but, when it's over, you know that this is a powerful film - one that hasn't relied on special effects or other gimmicks.

Elephant will be shown at the Hong Kong International Film Festival on April 6, 16 and 19. Visit www.hkiff.org.hk for more information.