Look-directed by Adam Rifkin

LOOK takes a not very well known cast and a gimmicky plot and turns it into a surprisingly effective and original drama. The gimmick is the now ubiquitous presence of video cameras that film so much of our existence. Look combines this with the by-now familiar device of interconnected lives in a big city (Los Angeles, where so many of these films are set).

Look maintains a compelling pace and the acting is good, even when the characters seem a little exaggerated for the sake of intensifying the story. A sleazy retail store manager, for example, seems to do nothing all day but seduce the female employees. An equally amoral female high school student plots to entrap one of her married teachers. A pair of crazed gunmen, meanwhile, are committing seemingly random acts of violence.

The somewhat over-hyped nature of the characters is matched by their apparent ignorance of the modern age of video cameras. No one seems to have any idea that they are being filmed. Another strange thing about this film is the lack of any real message. At the beginning, we are told the rather sinister fact that the average American is videotaped 200 times in a day. I have no idea if this is accurate, but either way this intro suggests that the film is going to be a critique of this invasion of privacy. Not so. In fact, by the end, the video cameras are, if anything, made to appear more benevolent than creepy. Yet I don’t think that was the intent. This was, rather, an attempt to simply view the chaos of modern life through the eyes of these cameras. Any moral judgments are left to the audience.

The lack of any blatant moralizing about the video phenomenon is perhaps what gives Look its sly quality of being something deeper and more memorable than the sum of its parts. Like the surveillance cameras themselves, the film itself remains coldly detached and simply lets its often absurd characters make fools (or worse) out of themselves. This is one of those films that makes you think about the very nature of them medium you are watching.

Look is the sort of imperfect independent film that I enjoyed more than many superficially superior -but more predictable- Hollywood movies. At the lower end, most mainstream films are little more than sequences of by-the-numbers action; at the higher end, they tend to be filmed versions of stage plays with actors giving resounding performances as they re-enact the familiar themes that hark back to Shakespeare and Greek tragedies.

Look, by contrast, is a truly contemporary film that could only be a film. Despite its imperfections, it makes us look at the world, and its many hidden cameras, a little differently.

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