Unable to blend artfilm with psychological thriller, writer-director Hamlet Sarkissian makes something opaque. Story of a crime scene photographer who starts turning victims into subjects for "creative" lensing. After kicking around the fest circuit since 2000, pic will have the briefest of theatrical runs, but should be a looker in latenight cable.

Unable to blend artfilm with psychological thriller, writer-director Hamlet Sarkissian makes something opaque indeed out of “Camera Obscura.” Story of a crime scene photographer who starts turning victims into subjects for “creative” lensing intentionally conjures up a wonderful visual legacy that connects Weegee, “Peeping Tom,” “Blow-Up” and the cinema of Raul Ruiz. But the photog’s inner character is never plumbed, while genre devices are laid on with a trowel. After kicking around the fest circuit since 2000, pic will have the briefest of theatrical runs, but should be a looker in latenight cable.

Jimmy (Adam Trese) happily tells his Spanish dancer g.f. Maria (Ariadna Gil) that he’s landed a crime scene photog job with the LAPD. Detectives David Flowers (Cully Fredricksen) and Russo (VJ Foster) tease Jimmy about being visibly upset at his first homicide assignment, but Maria doesn’t question why he’s bringing some of the murder pics home with him.

The script’s incoherence and illogic grows to Baroque degrees when Jimmy starts inexplicably complaining about a lack of money despite having told Maria how well the job pays. His lack of cash leads to bristling fights at home, and enables Flowers and Russo to lure him in to their scheme to skim profits off their drug arrests.

When Jimmy re-arranges victims at a gang murder scene to resemble the figures in Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” it’s clear something is deeply wrong with him — a something the movie can’t seem to intriguingly explain.

First half of the pic is decorated with endless shock cuts, extremely pretentious black-and-white footage conveying Jimmy’s nightmares, and a more promising, unhurried mood that frames Los Angeles with a European eye. But as Jimmy progressively loses it (like an escapee from a Franju film, he cuts out victim’s eyes in his photo prints), as the detectives turn into homicidal maniacs and Maria gives up dancing to work in a strip club, the movie dissolves into an empty-headed mess that appears to end with nothing but dead bodies.

Thesps are allowed apparent free rein; Trese looks lost, Fredricksen hams up the thuggery as if auditioning for Tarantino, and Gil can’t bring emotional grounding to the chaos.

The late Conrad Hall is listed in credits as a “guardian angel,” and Haris Zambarloukos’ work behind the lens is sizzling if hyperactive. Tigran Mansurian’s fascinating, complex score seems to want to get inside Jimmy’s disturbed head more than the script does.

Camera Obscura

Production

A Fish Eye Films production. Produced by Tassos G. Kazinos. Executive producer, Albertino Abela. Directed, written by Hamlet Sarkissian.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color/B&W), Haris Zambarloukos; editor, Andrea Zondler; music, Tigran Mansurian; production designer, Vahan Monoukian; art director, Martiros Adalian; set decorators, Zack Zargarian, Greg Guinasso, Sandy Adams; costume designer, Ariadna Papio; sound (Dolby), Brandon Kubisen, Donald Summer; sound designer, Ken Johnson; supervising sound editor, Christopher G. Harvengt; special effects supervisor, Paul Mulder; special effects, Illusion Engineering; stunt coordinator, Bobby Bragg; choreographer, Deborah Dee Greenfield; associate producers, Ariadna Gil, Heidi Hormoz; assistant director, Phillip Christon; casting, Kirk Ward. Reviewed on videotape, Los Angeles, Sept. 21, 2003. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Adam Trese, Ariadna Gil, Cully Fredricksen, VJ Foster, Kirk Ward.

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