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Kamera Obskura


I mentioned in my previous Cinemalaya review how Cinemalaya has now become the local equivalent of Fox Searchlight or Focus Features─that is, a vehicle for the film industry to try and dabble in art films. In case you didn't notice, the films which the Philippines sends to festivals abroad, from Cannes to the Oscars, come from the non-mainstream pool of Filipino films.

This film is no different. From start to end, this is an art film, but an art film worth watching.

It's directed by Raymond Red.

Raymond Red with some sort of... feather duster?

Raymond Red is a major player in the film industry, and one of the pioneers of our local independent cinema. He's been doing movies as far back as the Super 8 format, and is the first Filipino to win the Palm D'Or for his short film Anino. Raymond Red is so independent, he's never sold out. Ever. Well, he's directed a feature film─Sakay─which was way back in 1993. And then one TV movie in 1997. And nothing else. Instead, he's honed his craft doing commercials. I'm pretty sure he's been tapped by the major studios. And I'm also pretty sure his vision clashed with the studio's, which is why most of you young kids probably never heard of him. Wait, that made me sound like a hipster.

It's in black and white.
Now this in itself firmly cements this film's status as an art film. Generally speaking, any filmmaker in the time of color who chooses to do his/her films in black and white is doing so as an aesthetic choice.

And not just because it's a low budget flick.

And here is where you will appreciate Raymond Red's skill as a cinematographer. The director-cinematographer combination, in my opinion, can be the Philippines's contribution to world cinema. Writer-directors are a dime a dozen, as are actor-directors. But cinematographer-directors? Yes, there's Robert Rodriguez, but who else? This country has two─Yam Laranas and Raymond Red. And many more will follow.

It's sort of meta.
A lot of moviegoers will probably see the similarities between this film and The Artist, and it's not just because they're both in black and white.

Rugby boy, circa 1920s?

These films are basically "silent films about silent films". Kamera Obskura tackles the premise "What if we had a silent film tradition?" Well, we did have, actually, but there are no surviving copies left. This film speculates a scenario where a copy survived.

"Calm down, people! This isn't a documentary! It's fiction!"

And since this is a silent film, the other half of the "audio-visual" requirement is fulfilled by a great and very effective musical score by Diwa De Leon. He is a true musician, and you can hear it in his musical score─he practically lifts the opening bars from our national anthem and, using the same progression, takes off in a totally different direction.

Overall, this is a good film, but not one of Raymond Red's finest. He just wanted to pay tribute to the roots of the cinematic art form, and along the way throw in some references to his earlier short film, "A Study for the Skies".

Nope, those aren't flies.

Although the silent treatment was effective, there were times when you can sense it was unnatural. I think the production design and costumes might have had something to do with it. I mean, it's no Boardwalk Empire with their extravagant period tailoring. But it is a great film nevertheless.

Kamera Obskura. Philippines. 2012.

Rating: Seven and a half out of ten.

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