Camila falls into the
category of films that are surprisingly difficult to review. It's very easy to
review both very good and very bad movies; it's the ones in the middle that are
tough. Camila is particularly difficult to write about, because overall
it's simply... bland. Neither particularly good nor spectacularly bad, Camila
is mostly just "there."
Set in Argentina in the late
1800s, Camila is a period drama that should offer something for a viewer
like me who's fond of historical films, but the film doesn't seem to take
advantage of its potential merits. The basic premise of the film is that it's a
tragic love story: high-society girl Camila O'Gorman (Susu Pecoraro) falls in
love with the Jesuit priest Ladislao Gutiérrez (Imanol Arias). It's a forbidden
relationship, of course, but that doesn't stop the couple; unfortunately, the
reaction from the Argentinean society is vehemently negative. Despite the
dramatic potential in this conflict of individual passion with societal
disapproval, my main reaction to Camila was simply lack of interest.
The cultural and political
situation is barely hinted at; from what we see in the film, we can gather that
there's some sort of governmental trouble brewing, to the point that people
feel compelled to wear ribbons proclaiming their allegiance to their side, and
brutal repression is used on anyone who steps out of line, especially in
breaking the censorship laws. But that's about as clear a picture as we get:
it's not evident at all what the situation is, or who the different political
groups stand for, or what side the main cast of characters are on.
A tragic love story depends on
its effect being built up over the course of the film: the relationship must be
believable, the situation must be interesting, and the characters must be ones
what we care about. Camila gets off to a poor footing with the
introduction of the characters: it's hard to get a feel for Camila's
personality among the confusing gaggle of secondary characters around her, not
to mention the fact that her (and others') political sympathies appear to be
important but are completely unclear. Ladislao is in the unfortunate position
of seeming like a cardboard romantic interest; with a sketchy introduction and
too-little development of their relationship, the romance between him and
Camila feels too much like it was contrived by the writer rather than
perhaps an odd-seeming criticism for a story that was based on a famous
real-life story, but for the viewer, the proof is in the pudding: is what we
see on the screen believable? In the case of Camila, the story seems to
be merely connecting the dots, and by the end, when the film calls on us to
feel a powerful sympathy for the young couple, there's very little accumulated
feeling. If we haven't been led to care about them up to then, the ending just
The most striking thing about
the condition of the film is simply how dirty it is, especially in the first
half of the film. The print is scratched and full of flecks and blobs; it's not
a case of seeing the occasional flaw, but rather that every image is downright
The entire film is also
extremely soft-looking; I'm not sure to what extent this is an intentional
cinematographic choice, but its effect in this already rather dirty and dull
print is to make the image look even less clear. The bright white areas of the
film are particularly affected by the softness issue, as there's a great deal
of color bleeding across the edges of the images: the white areas literally
glow, whether it's someone's shirt or the light coming in from a window.
Contrast is adequate, though in very dark scenes it all tends to become plain
Colors in general, apart from
the extra-bright white, are rather dull and lifeless; the color red, which has
a frequent appearance throughout the film and appears thematically important,
often looks orangey instead of vibrantly red.
I was very pleased to see that
the English subtitles are optional rather than burned-in. They are a nicely
readable font, in white with black outlines, and are quite accurate as well as
being grammatically correct.
One issue that remains
unresolved is the film's correct aspect ratio. While the DVD case claims that
it is presented in 1.85:1, the film is actually shown at an aspect ratio that
appears to be slightly less than 1.66:1 (non-anamorphic). It doesn't seem to
have been pan and scanned, though, and I would suspect that it's simply a case
of the packaging being incorrect.
The original Spanish-language
soundtrack is presented in Dolby 2.0. It's marginally better than the video
portion of the track, but still not really satisfactory. The dialogue tends to
be soft and often slightly muffled, which makes it harder to understand;
there's also a slight background hiss in some scenes, and the occasional pop or
crackle in the sound as well.
The special features are
minimal on this disc. A text summary gives an overview of the cultural and
political background of Camila's Argentinean setting, which will
probably be of some help to viewers. It's rather badly proofread, though, with
misspellings and incorrect usages appearing. Also included is a set of text
production notes, a movie poster, and a selection of "newspaper clippings"
from various newspapers reviewing the film. Unfortunately, they're basically
just pictures of the articles, and all that's readable is the headlines.
Though the DVD case claims that
it includes a trailer and a photo gallery as well as cast and crew information,
this is not true.
Optional English subtitles are
Viewers who are already
familiar with the real story that inspired Camila may find the filmed
rendition of it more satisfying than those who approach it simply as a film
standing on its own. The film does a poor job of setting up a believable
situation and characters, which dilutes the emotional impact of the ending. If
the film had been given a knockout restoration, the visual impact might have
made up for some of the story's inadequacies, but the dirty and fuzzy print
instead serves as a distraction. Camila is best as a rental for viewers
who find the premise intriguing.