Review: In Camera
by Elena Lazic
- The feature debut by British director Naqqash Khalid is a formally and structurally bold proposition that perfectly echoes the chaos and absurd quality of modern-day Britain
With his debut feature, In Camera [+see also:
interview: Naqqash Khalid
film profile], which has premiered at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Manchester-born director Naqqash Khalid recognises that a conventional story or structure might not quite do justice to the utterly disjointed reality of the UK today. Seemingly standard lifestyles have become, progressively and almost imperceptibly, reliant upon absurd mechanisms of exploitation and control, where a privileged few can afford to build artificial yet comforting narratives for their lives only thanks to the suffering of the have-nots, be they in the UK or abroad.
In both cases, these poor souls are virtually invisible, and this is how Aden (the excellent Nabhaan Rizwan) is treated. A more obvious film would have him work a service job, but Khalid dares to go further into an abstract, existential realm by making Aden an actor. This allows him to address profound questions of identity and selfhood in the context of role-playing, but also of dehumanising capitalism. Although the perception of acting being a glamorous profession persists, the film shows its darker, much more prevalent side, with impersonal auditions, meagre pay, and uninspiring “roles”, if playing in a toothpaste commercial can even be called that.
For Aden, casual racism is also part of this experience. One of the most striking recurring images in the film shows him entering a waiting room full of young Brown men like him, all dressed exactly the same, and all going after one of few parts available to them. There is a surreal quality to those scenes, but as with practically everything else in the film, it doesn’t seem all that implausible on reflection. The limited variety of roles available to people of colour brings out even more sharply the absurd clichés that still plague much film and TV and their complete disconnect from reality. Several times the film niftily switches from Aden auditioning for a role to the actual scene playing out, with both actor and casting director suddenly in full costume and on location, Aden adopting the exaggerated accents and mannerisms that fit the stereotypes of the action, but not who he actually is in any way.
This is just one example of the film’s playful relation with structure and realism, though Khalid does not break the rules just for the sake of it; rather his digressions serve a story of intense depersonalisation. Aden’s feelings about his own life remain a mystery for a long time — although Rizwan’s blank expression suggests profound misery, Aden does not break down or quit. In fact he seems much more at ease in auditions than in the flat he shares with his roommate (Rory Fleck Byrne), a White nurse who never makes eye contact with him. Aden’s intense discomfort in real life is disturbing, but also lends itself to hilarious moments of dark, absurd humour. When someone mentions how hot it is for the season — the weather remaining a perennial topic of conversation in the UK — and another asks what they were talking about, Aden replies “global warming.” It is in that same conversation that Aden declares loving acting because he likes being told “what to do, what to say, where to stand.”
His robotic, Patrick Bateman-esque behaviour is thrown into sharpest relief by the arrival of a friend of his roommate who crashes at their flat for a few days. Amir El-Masry is fascinating as the most conventionally behaved person in the film, but also the most artificial, a smooth fashion designer who orders food so often that it seems more like a lifestyle choice — a way to signal something — than a merely practical one. He is everything Aden is not, especially in his relation to the other roommate, himself plagued by strange visions that are fascinating whether one fully grasps their nearly Kubrickian multiplicity of meanings or simply appreciates them as another manifestation of the film’s ideas on consumerism, the commodification of human beings, and the psychic pain both create. Entertaining and thought provoking, wry and sincere, In Camera is also eerily perverse; like Aden it is chameleonic. And like Aden — and you, and me — it is a fundamentally elusive and slippery construction.
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