Following his 2010 documentary Reminiscences, director Juan Daniel F. Molero returns for a challenging and visually impressive second feature with Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes). Billed as a ‘non-love story’, its use of digital visual technology and an immediate, raw style give Molero’s Lima-set film an ultra-contemporary authenticity that leaves glossier high-minded attempts, such as 2012’s Cosmopolis, in the dust. Amateur pornographer and paranoid sleazebag Junior (Terom), meets teenage Luz (Muki Sabogal) in a sex chatroom before developing a relationship of sorts in the real world.
Junior persuades Luz to let him film their first sexual encounter with his Google Glasses while secretly planning to sell the private footage to a porn video dealer. Videophilia‘s neatest narrative trick is the way that it weaves an indie comedy-drama plot through contemporary concerns around consent, privacy and the encroachment of digital spaces into the real world. As Junior’s lascivious associate puts it, there’s no such thing as virtual reality anymore: digital and physical have all been mixed up together.
It’s telling that Luz and Junior’s entire sexual relationship is mediated through the digital, either through the computer screen or through Junior’s high-tech lenses, but while Junior’s exploitative behaviour is gross, director Molero avoids easy moralising over digital culture, preferring instead to explore the ways that reality is endlessly mediated – either through the computer screen, the news of a local murder, or in one visually astonishing sequence, the taking of mind-altering substances. Aficionados of post-modern philosopher Jean Baudrillard will find much to discuss here.
With considerable technical skill, Molero distills what are often impenetrable concepts into an engaging cinematic experience, helped by his young cast, who foster an Andrea Arnold-esque naturalism. However, the film does at times feel like it’s caught in a playback loop of thesis statements, seemingly complete at about the 70 or 80-minute mark, but repeating itself for a further 40. The result is that the film’s final third drags, a problem not alleviated by a script that favours mood over narrative propulsion.
A last minute twist – a rape-revenge scheme for the digital media age – enlivens the attention and nicely underlines the film’s themes, but does little to allay the notion that this really should have wrapped up about half an hour ago. Nevertheless, in a post-truth era, Molero’s film is a challenging and truly contemporary work: a forceful, if imperfect, look at the shifting sands of digitally-mediated reality and the people balancing on its surface.
Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes) is released in New York City on Friday 2 December, 2016.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell