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Who's Camus Anyway?
There are so many great films about moviemaking, especially Fellini's "8 1/2," Altman's "The Player," and Truffaut's "Day for Night." In the latter, the pains, the joys, the neuroses, and the copulations of filmmaking are all divinely captured. And with all its dozens of characters, each and every strike a memorable chord.
Not so with this New York Film Festival feature, one of its few weak offerings this year. In fact, 2005 will be no doubt be remembered as one of the NYFF's banner years. With Good Night, and Good Luck," "Capote," "The Squid and the Whale," "Paradise Now," and "Caché" for starters, the brilliance of its slate is beyond breathtaking. Yes, the Festival Selection Committee, headed by one of the Big Apple's few breathing monuments worthy of worship, Richard Peña, deserves unqualified hosannas.
But we're off topic now. "Who's Camus Anyway?" is Japanese writer/director Shuji Kashiwabara's paean to the obsessive compulsion of those involved in the industry. Setting his comic venture in a film department at a university, his dozens of frantic post-pubescent personalities scurry here and there, having only five days before they start shooting their own film about a young man who kills an old lady for sport.
When not imbibing soda pop or noshing on bananas, these auteurs-in-training spend their time dropping names nonstop of directors, films, and authors, often getting their references wrong. In the less verbose episodes, there are make-out scenes, hip-hop dancing, and unfulfilled crushes. Add money problems, broken hearts, and no one understanding the motives behind the film-within-the-film's murder, and you wind up with a surprisingly bland teen comedy.
Cast with mainly young TV actors, most of these wannabe thespians overact to little effect. One especially irritating lass constantly pines for the callow director of the film being made in almost every third scene. When there's a chance later on that she
might commit suicide by springing off a roof, you actually wish there was a button on your seat labeled "jump" so you could end both her misery and yours.
But the main problem here is that Kashiwabara's screenplay seldom goes past the obvious shenanigans we all get too see in teen flicks weekly at our stateside malls. Even the widowed instructor, whose life is mirroring to a degree Aschenbach's in "Death in Venice," has as much emotional punch as Jeffrey Jones' dean of students in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." If only he were as funny. As the only adult in the feature, the professor, a retired filmmaker himself, goes around puttering after a young female student in hopes of receiving some returned affection. When he finally has a chance of achieving his goal, Kashiwabara comes up with an inane subplot to subvert this match that is neither plausible nor witty.
What's worse is a serious finale that turns out to be even more improbable and offensive. Imagine stapling a Hitchcock coda to "Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo," and you're halfway there.
In the end, you'll be better off going to AskJeeves.com for the answer to "Who's Camus Anyway?" Damn it! I just did, and all I garnered were reviews of this film.
Writer/director: Mitsuo Yanagimachi
Cast: Shuji Kashiwabara, Hinano Yoshikawa, Ai Maeda, Hideo Nakaizumi, Meisa Kuroki
Copyright © Brandon Judell 2005
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