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'Camera's' noir appeal is lost in its excesses

September 26, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"Camera Obscura" is an L.A. neo-noir raised to an insufferable degree of artiness. Some provocative ideas about what can drive an artist are lost amid lots of violence and pretentiousness, as is some exceptionally rich camerawork -- fancy angles and tilts aside -- from cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos. Ariadna Gil, a notable young Spanish film star, and Adam Trese, one of the gifted leads in the memorable "Laws of Gravity," are able to register as vital presences, but the film undercuts rather than serves their talents. Trese fares much better than Gil, who hasn't much to do as his wife, an aspiring ballerina reduced to stripping and given to expressing a lot of languid European world-weariness.

Zambarloukos does bring a fresh though brooding look to downtown L.A., including some distinctive interiors with handsome vintage architectural details. Writer-director Hamlet Sarkissian strikes moods well but then proceeds to overwrought theatrics and wretched excesses. Trese's ultra-intense Jimmy is a crime scene photographer assigned to a team of LAPD cops of the kind that were supposed to have been flushed out in the wake of the Rampart scandal. That Cully Fredricksen's David Flowers and VJ Foster's Russo are swaggering dirtbags is blatantly evident from the first frame. Tall, bald and rugged, Flowers is an ultra-macho yet oddly epicene sadistic psychopath, a homophobe who could well be a self-hating closeted gay. Russo is a burly boor, and the news that they are into drug dealing and using comes as something less than a shock.

Jimmy all too clearly doesn't stand a chance with these over-the-top baddies, but their brutal shenanigans overwhelm what is potentially provocative: that the artist in Jimmy starts developing a need to make works of art of out of the random savagery of the crime scenes; in one bravura instance he rearranges the corpses of a gang around a long table in emulation of "The Last Supper." "Camera Obscura," however, ends up no more than an arty bloodbath.


'Camera Obscura'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Extreme violence and brutality, language and drug use

Adam Trese...Jimmy

Ariadna Gil...Maria

Cully Fredricksen...David Flowers

VJ Foster...Russo

Kirk Ward...Fish

A Fish Eye presentation. Writer-director Hamlet Sarkissian. Producer Tassos Kazinos. Executive producer Albertino Abela. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos. Editor Andrea Zondler. Music Tigran Mansurian. Production designer Vahan Manoukian. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Exclusively at the ArcLight, Sunset Boulevard at Vine Street, (323) 464-4226.

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