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“I’m going to share with you the visions I’ve seen,” whispers a distorted female voice at the opening of Videophilia (and other Viral Symptoms), promising to expose “other dimensions, higher dimensions,” than the one we think we’re in. And to an extent, writer/director Juan Daniel F. Molero does just that, viewing of-the-moment realities addressed in plenty of other shoestring indies — the ways social media and messaging tech are changing us; the slippery nature of relationships conducted largely online — in a more seductive and otherworldly way than most of those predecessors. Too peculiar and foreign to be marketed to the broad youth demographic called for by its subject, the picture nevertheless has a viral power to escape the fest circuit (it won Rotterdam’s Tiger Award) and reach some adventurous auds at art houses.
Set in Lima, Peru, when it isn’t exploring other realms, the film follows teenager Luz (Muki Sabogal) and the slightly older man courting her via erotic webcam, Junior (Terom). When we meet him, Junior is awaiting the Maya-predicted end of the world on his apartment building’s rooftop. Life appears to continue, but Junior informs his friend that, according to the Internet, “the end of the world was at midnight.” Hungover the next morning, he has a vision: “Dude, in some other reality we are the sheiks of porn!”
When not trying to divine hidden truths lurking within the headlines of tabloids, Junior pursues this career in homemade pornography. Once he finally meets Luz in the flesh, she’s happy to make sex videos with him, though it’s unclear if she knows he’s trying to sell them to a local bootlegger.
The first time Junior tries to sell one of these videos to the pornographer, his DVD suffers from the kind of shape-shifting video artifacts familiar to anyone who has endured the dawn of online movie sharing. It’s almost gorgeous, if you’re not preoccupied with the flesh you’re meant to see, and the two men marvel at the screen.
But this show is nothing compared to what the movie occasionally delivers. It breaks into similar but more extreme distortions throughout, as if a virus understood by the first scene’s narrator has taken over the audio and video, Outer Limits-style. Ugly web graphics, pop-up ads, bits of sex and Hollywood proliferate, then recede from the screen, in conflagrations that remind one of the kind of often-terrible video art galleries have shown for the past decade. But here the technique serves the plot — never more than in an extended sequence where Luz drops acid for the first time at an archaeology site. Here, the distortions avoid Internet memes and are purely psychedelic; they’re mesmerizing, nearly horrifying.
Molero’s editing jangles up the superficially simple story of this couple’s affair just enough to convey the many sorts of weirdness afflicting it, and he drops sufficiently jarring notes from the beginning to prepare us for the unsettling, ambiguous scenes that close the film. With material like this it is hard to know how much credit should go to pure chance, or how well the final product will age as years pass. But compared to other thrillers that treat webcams as a structural gimmick or visualize social media in ways that look corny even by the time credits roll, Videophilia casts a singular spell.
Production company: Tempo Libre Studios
Cast: Muki Sabogal, Terom, Caterina Gueli Rojo, Michel Lovón, José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal, Alfredo Villar, Manuel Siles, Rafael Gutiérrez, Tilsa Otta, Liliana Albornoz
Director-Screenwriter-Producer-Editor: Juan Daniel F. Molero
Executive producers: Hector Velarde
Director of photography: Omar Quezada
Production designer: Rodrigo Nunez Mas
Costume designer: Alonso Nunez
Composer: Carlos Gutierrez Quiroga
Casting director: Muki Sabogal
Venue: Cinema Tropical
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