Who's Camus Anyway? (Dir: Mitsuo Yanagimachi, 2006) is about a group of students making a film. Uh-oh... already it sounds like the crowded genre of cinema-about-cinema about which I sighed a few days ago.
But this is slightly different. The film they're making is about a student who commits a murder for no particular reason, provoking immediate echoes of L'étranger, by Albert Camus. In normal circumstances, the persistent namechecking of literary and cinematic deities (Tarantino and Visconti and Somerset Maugham and many others get knowing nods) would seem forced and become tiresome, but since these are students, brimming with enthusiasm for new knowledge (Japanese students are different, it seems), it works. The halls of the university swarm with busking students, ensuring that the film occasionally resembles an old-fashioned "let's do the show right here!" production. With the multiple plot strands, it's as if Robert Altman had directed Fame (although even Altman wouldn't have had enough amour-propre to parody his own interminable tracking shot at the beginning of The Player, and then question whether or not it was a single shot, as two characters do here).
But what really stands out is the title of the film-within-the-film. It's called The Bored Murderer, which I reckon is a much better label for Camus's novel than either of the standard English translations, The Stranger and The Outsider; in fact, it sums up a whole lineage of existentialist anti-heroes, from Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov to John Cusack's Martin Blank. Apparently, the distributors were so enamoured of The Bored Murderer that they used it as title of the 'real' film when it opened in Singapore.
I think this misses the point. Who's Camus Anyway? is a cut above your average self-referential movie-about-movies, but that's still what it is. As we reach the denouement, the internal and external narratives become intertwined, and the viewer must keep asking which film - Camus or Murderer - is on screen, whether the actors are acting, what the film-makers are thinking, whether the rug is being pulled out from under the audience. It becomes a meditation on the experience, not just of making a movie, but also of watching one, in the tradition of Rémy Belvaux and Lars von Trier.
So why didn't they call it Altman Bites Dogme?