The opening scene of Japanese director Mitsuo Yanagimachi's Who's Camus, Anyway? is a seven-minute-long single take, the director's roving camera hovering above the action, introducing us to each principal character amid the hectic buzz of a colorful art school. The bright students in the movie are all hyper-film-literate, and during that impressively long opening take, a group of them are engaged in a conversation about movies with impressively long opening takes, such as Touch of Evil and The Player.
In The Player's magisterial introduction, another cinema buff's in-joke, Robert Altman's pawns also mingle around a film environment for eight minutes without a visible edit, themselves discussing films with impressively long takes, including Touch of Evil. If The Player is a meta-commentary about itself, then what is Who's Camus, Anyway? A meta-meta-reflection of itself? It's easy to feel a bit disoriented in its hall of mirrors, but you shouldn't expect an easy ride when a French existentialist's name is dropped in the title. In addition to Camus' hearse-black absurdism, the film's cinematic reference points include Hitchcock, Welles, Visconti and Godard, and at times you almost expect to see vintage film clips integrated into the movie's vocabulary, Dreamers-style.
Who's Camus, Anyway? never found a distributor despite favorable reviews from the 2005 Cannes and New York Film Festivals, so it's a great thing Film Movement is making it available in the United States. If you peel back the layers, this story of film students struggling through a week of preparation before shooting their thesis film is an accessible one. The director (Shuji Kashiwabara) is dating clingy Yukari (Hinano Yoshikawa) but is really interested in assistant director Hisada (Ai Maeda) even though he sleeps around with the continuity girl (Yuko Takada). The crew plucks a mysterious, effeminate actor (Hideo Nakaizumi) from a ludicrous feminist high school theater production for the lead in their movie, a chilly horror film called The Bored Murderer, whose storyline echoes Camus' The Stranger. Meanwhile, their widowed professor (Hirotaro Honda, who's in every Japanese movie), supposedly a great filmmaker of Mizoguchian discipline in his day, has been reduced to lusting over a student.
Yanagimachi is after much more than the post'Living in Oblivion 'isn't indie filmmaking frustratingâ?� exposÃ© that becomes every unimaginative student director's first movie. He's more interested in exposing the psychology behind cinema through the humorous-cum-frightening results of life imitating art. Like Jacques Rivette was wont to do before him, Yanagimachi climaxes with a shocker that seems incongruent with the rest of the film's tone but in reflection fulfills the provocative message behind all the seemingly playful cinephilic quotations: Total immersion in film can lead to a dangerous removal from reality. True identity is lost, rendering us strangers in our own skin.
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