Friday, February 26, 2010
REVIEW: Who's Camus Anyway?
カミュなんて知らない (Kamyu nante shiranai)
Running time: 115 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
About halfway through Mitsuo Yanagimachi's 2005 film about student filmmakers, Albert Camus' most famous novel "The Stranger" is introduced. It's suggested that the main actor read it to get a better understanding of his character in the film - a man who one day simply kills an old woman to see what it feels like. The actor's knowledge of literature is somewhat slim as he can't even pronounce the author's name, but he shares more than he knows with both the killer in the story and the killer in the book. It marks a central theme to the film - how art imitates life and vice versa.
The story is straightforward as it covers a week in the life of film students in the pre-production phase of a film entitled "The Bored Murderer". Many production issues arise as the inexperience of the students shows through during team meetings and rehearsals ("does the continuity person need to be at a costume meeting?"). We also get to meet many of the team - the selfish director who thinks directing is "cool", the earnest hard working production assistant, the film geek prop handlers, the flighty continuity girl, the "living in the present" lead actor and the mentoring professor nicknamed Aschenbach. If you're wondering whether that's a reference to the main character in Visconti's "Death In Venice", you'd be right since the professor has developed a potentially unhealthy attraction to a young female student and follows her whenever he can. He's a former director himself, but has been spinning his wheels and lost his creative spirit since his wife died. If you want more film references they can be easily had - the obsessive girlfriend of the director has been dubbed "Adele" (after Truffault's "The Story Of Adele H"), a cafe scene where a student describes what it would be like if they were in a cafe in a Godard movie, an analysis of the number of edits in Mizoguchi films and the requisite lists of favourite movies.
The most impressive scene, though, is the single take 7-minute opening tracking shot that winds its way through most of the university campus, introduces all the main players and even contains two characters discussing other films with long opening tracking shots. Since one of the films they mention is Robert Altman's "The Player" (which does the exact same thing), it becomes almost a meta-meta moment. That's part of the enjoyment of this film though - these references and the struggles of its characters relate back to how intertwined film can be to people's lives. Are your reactions in certain situations your own or do they come from characters you've seen on screen? How much personal experience should you bring into your own characters or creative work? The lines blur. Particularly in a scene where several characters are discussing characters and find similarities with themselves - all the while student musicians are practicing in the hallway providing the music for the scene.
Most of the film takes place on the school's campus where there are always other students practicing music, dance, pantomime or some other creative pursuits either outside or within its multi-level open concept main building. It allows Yanagimachi to play with a variety of camera setups and framing as the characters wander between the school's different levels and all of its nooks and crannies. This allows for the many long takes, where we slide from one character interaction to another, to still be visually interesting and to incorporate the many other students who essentially provide the soundtrack with their constant creativity. All of this leads to the final 10-15 minutes of the film where the team go on location for their first day's shoot - the filming of the murder scene. It's a terrific depiction of a fully committed artist's own view of his work while he is creating it.
In the end, the movie a bit of a love letter to the medium itself. Early in the story the professor and a colleague are discussing how it is interesting that though Kabuki is thriving in the age of the computer, film is nearing extinction. The professor briefly stops and states "It's film's fragility that makes it so dear".
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.