×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Kamera Obskura

A fictitious Filipino silent film is unearthed and unspooled in "Kamera Obskura."

With:
With: Pen Medina, Joel Torre, Nanding Josef, Abe Pagtama, Suzette Ranillo, Ping Medina, Irene Gabriel, Lou Veloso, Bert Habal, Archie Adamos, Madlen Nicolas, Teddy Co, Cesar Hernando, Ricky Orellana. (Tagalog, English dialogue)

A fictitious Filipino silent film is unearthed and unspooled in “Kamera Obskura.” Creating a “lost” movie about a prison escapee who acquires a magical movie camera and becomes a political pawn, helmer Raymond Red succeeds marvelously in conceptual and visual terms, but his soundtrack strategy is likely to sharply divide audiences. World-preemed at Cinemalaya, where it won a director prize, “Kamera” looks set for limited theatrical exposure locally and high visibility on the fest circuit.

Real-life Filipino film archivists Teddy Co, Cesar Hernando and Ricky Orellana call a press conference to announce that an old film has been discovered in a warehouse. Minus credits and its final reel, the technically sophisticated black-and-white feature is thought to date from the late 1920s or early 1930s, a barren period in Filipino cinema. With tantalizing mystery surrounding its authorship and precise date of production, the movie is presented without interruption for approximately 70 minutes.

Red and his technical team expertly capture the look and feel of silent cinema with the first images of Juan (Pen Medina, also co-scripting), a bedraggled prisoner who has served 20 years in solitary. Crawling through a tunnel into a dank cell, Juan uses a tiny shaft of sunlight and his spectacle lenses to create a camera obscura effect and “see” the outside word.

Managing to escape, Juan ventures into a striking vision of Manila that mixes postcard-worthy colonial-era landscapes with futuristic design, recalling Everytown in “Things to Come” (1936). Drawn to a photographic shop called Kamera Obskura, Juan foils a robbery with a movie camera that emits a ray, causing the offenders to disappear. Given the magic device and led to a monolithic office block by the shop’s owner (Abe Pagtama), Juan is told to enter this place where “everything will come true.”

What follows is an engaging yarn about power and corruption, as Juan’s journey through the maze-like building brings him into contact with a fat-cat politician (Joel Torre), an apparently honest champion of workers’ rights (Nanding Josef) and a slinky mystery woman (Irene Gabriel). Visuals evoking classics of German expressionism and Russian formalism are marvelous to behold, but some auds may be put off by the musical accompaniment.

Eschewing piano music, composer Diwa De Leon opts for electronica, reminiscent of 1950s synthesizer experiments, and heavy slabs of ’80s-style European industrial rock. An announcement in the opening seg that a brand-new score has been added would easily have paved the way for auds to accept such a radical departure from what’s generally accepted and expected when watching silent films. As it stands, the music draws unnecessary attention to itself and frequently breaks the spell — so beautifully cast elsewhere — of a buried treasure being opened for the first time.

Pic closes on a lovely note celebrating the wonder of cinema and underlining the importance of film preservation.

Kamera Obskura

Philippines

Production: A Pelikula Red, Obskura Partnership, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Cinemalaya presentation of a Pelikula Red, Filmex production. (International sales: Pelikula Red, Manila.) Produced, directed by Raymond Red. Screenplay, Red, Pen Medina.

Crew: Camera (B&W/color, HD), Red; editors, Red, Pablo Biglang-Awa; music, Diwa de Leon; production designers, Daniel Red, Cesar Hernando; art directors, Mikey Red, Roy Red; sound (stereo), de Leon; visual effects supervisors, Edrie Ocampo, Biglang-Awa; visual effects, Eovfx; associate producers, Butch Jimenez, Suzette Ranillo, Henry Frejas, Mac Alejandre, Mon Confiado, Paolo Villaluna, Ocampo, Biglang-Awa, Medina, Abe Pagtama. Reviewed at Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival (Directors Showcase -- competing), July 23, 2012. Running time: 83 MIN.

Cast: With: Pen Medina, Joel Torre, Nanding Josef, Abe Pagtama, Suzette Ranillo, Ping Medina, Irene Gabriel, Lou Veloso, Bert Habal, Archie Adamos, Madlen Nicolas, Teddy Co, Cesar Hernando, Ricky Orellana. (Tagalog, English dialogue)

More Scene

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Anthony Anderson LADF

    Why Anthony Anderson and Billie Jean King are Giving Back with the Dodgers Foundation

    Celebrities and athletes came together at the Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala to celebrate the team’s commitment to supporting youth and to catch a glimpse of the event’s headliner: Bruno Mars. Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss were honored at the fifth annual event, which raised over $3 million for programs benefiting Los Angeles youth. [...]

  • Shia LaBeouf poses at the premiere

    Shia LaBeouf to Host Birthday Fundraiser for Slauson Rec. Theater Company

    Shia LaBeouf is celebrating his 33rd birthday by giving back. The actor, who turned 33 on June 11, will host a fundraising concert later this month for the Slauson Rec Theater Company, a 10-month-old free performing arts program he co-founded in downtown Los Angeles. The night will also include a preview of the Slauson Rec [...]

  • Awkwafina, Lulu Wang Celebrate New York

    Awkwafina Wants 'The Farewell' to Break Boundaries of Cultural Differences

    Family dysfunction is universal despite cultural differences. That’s what writer and director Lulu Wang wants audiences to take away from her film “The Farewell” starring Awkwafina. “This movie will teach us universality out of specificity. There’s something that we can all kind of relate to across cultures. There’s something we still have to learn about [...]

  • Elizabeth Debicki

    Elizabeth Debicki Talks About Being Supported by Other Women in Hollywood

    Elizabeth Debicki is looking to the future — which makes sense, since she was named Women in Film and Max Mara’s “Face of the Future” for 2019. “No pressure,” Debicki laughed when Variety asked the actress about the honor on the red carpet. “It means a great deal. I have always deeply respected the work [...]

  • Carla Gugino Jett

    How Carla Gugino Is Redefining the Anti-Hero in Cinemax's Crime Drama 'Jett'

    “This is like no character I’ve ever played,” Carla Gugino told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of Cinemax’s “Jett” on Tuesday night. “I think television is filled with great roles for women, which is such a godsend these days. But the anti-hero — there’s still a double standard there.” In the new series, Gugino [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content