This early work by Kieslowski is both a comic and serious exploration of one’s man discovery and obsession with filmmaking.
Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
1979 | Poland | Drama/Comedy | 112 mins | 1.37:1 | Polish
NC16 (passed clean) for scenes of intimacy
Cast: Jerzy Stuhr, Malgorzata Zabkowska, Ewa Pokas
Plot: Filip buys an 8mm movie camera when his first child is born. Because it is the first camera in town, he is named official photographer by the local Party boss. His horizons widen when he is sent to regional film festivals with his first works but his focus on movie-making also leads to domestic strife and philosophical dilemmas.
Awards: Won Interfilm Award – Forum of New Cinema (Berlin)
International Sales: MK2
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at the Perspectives Film Festival ’18)
Camera Buff may only be Krzysztof Kieslowski’s second fiction feature, but he had already made shorts and documentaries for more than a decade. With that context in mind, it would be unsurprising to find the film not just fully-formed, but a window to the Polish director’s early filmmaking experiences as a documentarian.
His lead character, Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr), a factory worker who purchases a movie camera with the intention to capture his newborn baby’s early years, but becomes obsessed with the equipment in his possession when he is asked to cover his company’s annual ceremony. Subsequently, he discovers the arena of film festivals and, in one fascinating scene, invites Krzysztof Zanussi (a highly-regarded Polish filmmaker who appears as himself) to a screening of several documentary shorts made by Filip, held in a makeshift basement.
“What are you filming?”
“Anything that moves.”
Stuhr’s performance as Filip is largely endearing, providing comic relief as his nearly childlike behaviour with the camera suggests a man discovering a new world through his passion. Always enthusiastic and desiring to capture his community and people as organically as he could, Filip’s keen eye and natural affinity with his tool transforms his life. On the other hand, his obsession is met with serious consternation from his wife. Kieslowski balances Filip’s newfound spirit toward filmmaking with the sharp decline of affairs in his household, hence giving viewers some food for thought: should family come first? And what is happiness really?
Although Camera Buff is a decent film, and also a wonderful visual record of late ‘70s Poland under Communist rule, it is not as tight or compelling as some of Kieslowski’s best works. However, I find it resonating in the sense that I identify with Filip’s obsession-cum-predicament, which is quite similar to my single-minded pursuit of watching and reviewing films that has been an integral part of my larger passion for cinema for more than a decade.
And it is this wholly consuming passion that has made me care more about cinema than the people around me, culminating in the severing of ties with the love of my life two years ago. Since then, I have periodically pointed the camera at myself and asked: is it worth it to be so committed to something? Am I really happy?