Grave, dryly funny, even farcical, Camera Buff is a little-seen but worthy effort from the late Polish master Kieslowski.
Reviewed by Marrit Ingman, Fri., May 24, 2002
CAMERA BUFF (AMATOR) (1979)
D: Krzysztof Kieslowski; with Jerzy Stuhr, Malgorzata Zabkowska, Ewa Pokas, Stefan Czyzewski, Jerzy Nowak, Tadeusz Bradecki, Andrzej Jurga, Krzysztof Zanussi. A little-seen 1979 effort from the late Polish master Kieslowski, who succumbed to a heart attack in 1996 but continues to fascinate the arthouse set. (Tom Twyker's long-awaited Heaven is based on a script by Kieslowski and longtime writing partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz, and Kieslowski's 10-part opus The Decalogue arrived on home video in 2000, 12 years after its completion.) Viewers familiar with the lush visuals and moody atmospherics of Kieslowski's later films (such as the Trois Coleurs trilogy and 1991's The Double Life of Veronique) may find Camera Buff a bit surprising. It's grave but dryly funny, even farcical at times, with a flatly realistic tone punctuated by moments of cerebral insight. To commemorate the birth of his daughter, factory worker Filip (Stuhr) brings home a Russian-made 8mm movie camera, intending to film tender moments with the family. Instead, the camera fascinates everyone within range of its f-stop, except for Filip's pragmatic wife, Irka (Zabkowska), who is annoyed. Filip is soon torn between filming life as it is and constructing reality in ways both large and small, from setting up shots of pigeons in flight to manipulating a company-produced documentary at the behest of his sinister manager (Czyzewski) by editing out "controversial" content and adding upbeat commentary. Nonetheless, the film community in Lodz embraces Filip eagerly. But as he becomes swept up in success, he runs further afoul of both Irka and the company and its Communist party line. Though it's a bit pessimistic in humorously likening the artist's work to a kind of compulsive, antisocial mania (as Irka is leaving him, Filip "frames" her departure with his fingers), the film contains moments of exquisite tenderness. A neighbor grieving the death of his mother finds a distant shot of her in one of Filip's films and declares, "What you're doing is beautiful. Somebody is dead but still here." Another lovely sequence depicts a model worker whose simple life Filip chronicles in a short documentary of which the company disapproves. Moreover, fans of Eastern European cinema will likely appreciate its in-jokes, which include cameo appearances by critic Jurga and filmmaker Zanussi, who stops by to counsel Filip on the filmmaker's craft and to screen 1977's Camouflage.