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There’s a peculiar beauty to the first third of Tim Sutton’s “Pavilion,” a unifying romanticism that suggests this documentarylike film is going to be a mysterious tone poem about teens creating summer memories.

It doesn’t turn out that way, and that is ultimately part of Sutton’s point about kids caught in destiny’s drift.

Pulled from one thing to another or stuck in situations in which they have no control, the characters in “Pavilion” find pockets of freedom in skateboard parks, dry brushlands and bicycle flights resembling herds of wild horses.

But before that, the film is set in a wooded, lakeside town in upstate New York, where Max (Max Schaffner), perhaps 15, and a few friends spend an idyllic season swimming, exploring and boating. Sutton’s approach is observation: We’re not so much pulled into a narrative as watching images float in ethereal atmospheres.

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The camera is especially drawn to the movement of water, impressionist blurs of background light and a whimsical perspective that frames some of the kids in a lovingly heroic way.

There’s a breathtaking moment in which Max and a girl, Addie (Addie Bartlett), silently investigating a dark, deserted cabin, blot out available light in the shot. Their eclipsing shadows morph into a purely black fade-out: They become the dream of “Pavilion.”

Which makes it all the tougher when Max involuntarily moves to sun-baked Arizona, trapped in a sketchy situation with his dad. We follow but ultimately lose him at some point, the way you might lose a cat during a cross-country drive.

Sutton’s focus shifts to another boy (Cody Hamric), whose own aimlessness and silent pain are agonizingly clear when we watch him sit through a movie, twitching, unable to focus or lose himself.

Teenage wasteland? Try teenage limbo.

Tom Keogh:

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