Review: ‘The Camera I’

Francoise Romand pushes her voice in an extremely private direction in "The Camera I." Vid-shot diary pic, in which Romand records her thoughts and interaction with various lovers from 1999 to 2002, might be too easily dismissed by viewers unaware of her great work. Only upscale fests and cinematheques need apply.

Always a personal filmmaker, Francoise Romand pushes her voice in an extremely private direction in “The Camera I.” Vid-shot diary pic, in which Romand records her thoughts and interaction with various lovers from 1999 to 2002, might be too easily dismissed by viewers unaware of her great work, such as “Mix-Up,” while fans could classify this new film as a minor but revealing addition to a fascinating body of work. Only upscale fests and cinematheques need apply.

Romand uses the small Digi-Betacam to capture her life, buffeted by unsure career options and unstable relationships. Hired during the period of filming to a prestigious post at Harvard’s visual and environmental studies department, Romand’s life is nevertheless constantly in flux and full of question marks. Her lovers — including David Larcher, who takes control of the camera during some sections — never seem to fully connect with her, and her mature expressions of loneliness always sound more heartfelt than what a younger, more solipsistic diarist-filmmaker might come up with.

Romand gives others around her, such as friend — or is he more than that? — Jean-Pierre Bekolo, time to counter her p.o.v. — in this case a perceived lack of consideration for his feelings — which he voices while standing in front of the train station in Romand’s hometown of La Ciotat, the same station lensed in one of the first films, the Lumiere brothers’ “Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat.”

Referencing to film history may appear to be a bit arch in the context of such a personal on-screen diary, but the linkage of the Lumieres’ love of their new-fangled camera with Romand’s much smaller one has a way of charmingly spanning cinema’s 100 years, as does her mention that her great-grandfather played a role in the Lumieres’ “The Card Game.”

Apropos of such artistic handmade work as this, image and sound are neither refined to a pro glossiness nor as a raw as untrained homevid. Romand’s poignant remarks on “Mix-Up” — already 19 years old and still by far her best-known work Stateside — could help revive interest in that small docu masterpiece. English title fails to approximate original title’s double entendre, which includes a reversal of the phrase “Je t’aime,” or “I love you.”

The Camera I

France

Production

An Alibi Films production. (International sales: Alibi Films, La Ciotat, France.) Produced by Francoise Romand. Directed by Francoise Romand.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Romand, David Larcher; editors, Julien Basset, Romand, Fabio Balducci; sound, Romand. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Visions), Sept. 10, 2004. Running time: 74 MIN.

With

Francoise Romand, Philou, Isabelle Vorle, David Larcher, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Marie-Laure Tollet, Aldo Sperber, Olivia Ekelund, JosZ-Maria Berzosa, Rose Romand, Girailh Kapamadjian, Jean-Claude Romand. (French, English dialogue)
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