Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'm living in this movie

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?


West said...

I'd have been a Raskolnikov, but mother nature ripped me off...


Rimshot said...

"So why didn't they call it Altman Bites Dogme?"


Dick Headley said...

Seems to me whenever the Japanese have a go at this kind of thing it gets filtered through all kinds of inscrutable oriental perceptions. I'm not even sure 'self-referential' has quite the same implications. Admittedly these observations are based on the occasional overnight stop in Tokyo and repeated viewing of 'Lost in Translation'.

Word verification: swiper

Anonymous said...

an enjoyable journey to your last line. your arse remains smart. (for which we rejoice)
btw - our lot will be in the news shortly (yet again) it's cuts cuts cuts.

Tim F said...

Yeah, there's something of the axe murderer about you, Bob. Scritti better watch out...

I'll take that as a compliment, Rimshot.

Good point, Dick. But WCA? is very much about Western cultural signifiers - with just a few tweaks, it could be turned into an American indie movie.

VftV: yes, I heard. Hope things don't get too bloody for you. Will barricades be manned, and effigies of senior management hanged and burned?

Anonymous said...

"...these are students, brimming with enthusiasm for new knowledge (Japanese students are different, it seems"
After a day facing J-undergrads sending emails on their phones, sleeping or pasting hello Kitty stickers on the front of thweir files, I beg to demur

Tim F said...

Demurral noted, Nick. Oh well, art trumps life, as usual.