The second feature film of Krzysztof Kieslowski, who went on to become one of Poland's most prestigious directors, CAMERA BUFF was based partially on Kieslowski's experiences making TV documentaries. A modest metaphorical examination of the problems and pressures suffered by artists in
semi-authoritarian societies, the picture won the grand prize at the 1977 Moscow Film Festival.
When Filip (Jerzy Stuhr), an ordinary man of 30, buys a home movie camera to film his newborn daughter, little does he know that the purchase will change his life. As the only employee of his plant who owns a camera, he automatically is selected to document the plant's anniversary celebration.
Despite being criticized by the plant director (Stefan Czyzewski) for filming too much extraneous and less-than-flattering material, Filip becomes increasingly preoccupied with his new hobby and soon, in his own words, he is "shooting everything that moves." As a consequence, his wife (Malgorzata
Zabkowska) grows bitter and harshly critical of him.
Filip is allowed to set up a small film club and a production unit within the plant. After he wins third prize in a national contest for amateur filmmakers, the TV industry takes an interest in his work and decides to broadcast it. He is further encouraged when he sees how deeply his friend,
Piotrek (Marek Litewka), is comforted by watching footage of his mother, taken by Filip shortly before her sudden death.
Eventually, Filip's pregnant wife leaves him and takes their little girl with her. Then, local bureaucrats take offense at one of his TV films and, as a result, his kindly supervisor (Jerzy Nowack) is forced into early retirement. Tortured by the negative effects his new avocation has had on those
he loves, Filip destroys his latest film. At a terrible impasse in his life and in his new career, he turns his camera on himself and begins to tell his own story, starting with the birth of his daughter.
To moviegoers living in relatively restrictive societies, CAMERA BUFF, at the time of its release, may have seemed quite bold, refreshing, and heartening. In other times and other places, it's more likely to seem tame and tepid. Thematically fertile but aesthetically thin, CAMERA BUFF is not funny
enough to be a comedy (despite a few droll moments early on), nor moving enough to be a drama, nor incisive enough to be a satire.
For a movie about moviemaking, CAMERA BUFF is surprisingly uncinematic. Indifferently composed and blandly photographed, the underlit visuals are at no time interesting or pleasant to look at (even a country landscape that the plant manager singles out for its beauty looks murky), and Kieslowski
never even attempts an audacious or offbeat shot. As for plot, anyone hungry for a morsel of melodrama or a pinch of spice (but without a taste for red herring) will be disappointed when Filip's split-second flirtation with an attractive film festival organizer (Ewa Pokas) is initiated,
consummated, and concluded with one long kiss.
The picture is additionally vitiated by the introduction midway of an inappropriate intellectual detour in which the prominent Polish director, Krzysztof Zanussi, playing and obviously speaking for himself, muses at some length about the role of the filmmaker in society. This sort of documentarian
sincerity can be deadly to the narrative flow of a fiction film unless it is undercut with some degree of irony, perversity, or poetic irrationalism, as it was in Jean-Luc Godard's employment of Jean-Pierre Melville in BREATHLESS (1959).
With the exception of the Soviet Union, the Second World greeted CAMERA BUFF with warmth and approval. Kieslowski's first feature, BLIZNA (1976), was never released in the United States; his subsequent pictures include the Oscar-winning A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING (1988), a ten-part TV series called DECALOGUE (1989), and the "Three Colors" trilogy comprised of BLUE (1993), WHITE and RED (both 1994), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. (Sexual situations, profanity.)
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