Camouflage - Krzysztof Zanussi
1976 film by Krzysztof Zanussi. Remastered in 2011.
The film follows a group of students who are spending their summer vacation at a university camp studying the science of linguistics. One of the camp directors, 26-year-old Jarosław Kruszyński, is a young professor who prefers a straightforward, intimate approach to students. He is opposed in his liberal views by associate professor Jakub Szelestowski, who likes to manipulate people.
The two clash from the beginning when Jarosław allows a student, Jarek, to present a paper during the summertime linguistics competition. The paper conflicts with the official political views of those times. In the end, the mediocre paper still receives the jury prize. Eventually the deputy dean arrives for the closing ceremonies and the jury's final deliberations, since he disfavours the paper's political incorrectiveness, tensions rise.
The situation reaches a boiling point when the student in question bites the dean's ear during the awards presentation. The confrontation results in a scandal and the police is called.
"This film has survived numerous scandals, because it was regarded as politically subversive", said Krzysztof Zanussi during the ceremonial launch of the digital remastered version of the film "Barwy ochronne" / "Camouflage" (1976) at the end of 2011.
Mike Walsh, a Senior Lecturer in the Screen and Media Department at Flinders University in Adelaide, wrote on the online Senses of Cinema journal that "There was a time in the late 1970s when Krzystof Zanussi was the toughest-minded filmmaker in the world". He calls "Camouflage" one of the director's finest achievements, explaining:
What gives this body of films a thematic cohesion is their concentration on characters who recognise that they are completely compromised by the social situation in which they find themselves. Zanussi pulls no punches and offers his protagonists no easy ways out. Their intelligence makes them interesting and sympathetic, but their self-awareness is, finally, the curse under which they live.
Polish film critic Michał Oleszczyk argues that "Camouflage" is perhaps one of the best Polish films of its time:
No Polish film can match "Camouflage" in terms of philosophical acumen. Zanussi showed the terrible effects of the rotten mentality of the meritocracy based on privilege and institutional affiliation. The issues, which after being run over by a steamroller, are only ruins of sense - that is absurd.
Our film critics lauded Zanussi's film as a masterpiece. Dennis Grunes, author of "A Short Chronology of World Cinema", wrote that along "With Andrzej Wajda's 'Man of Marble' (1977), 'Camouflage' helped found Poland's 'kino moralnego niepokoju – cinema of moral concern'. It did so sparklingly, delightfully".
One of the unacknowledged ironies about Poland during the past decade and a half is that Krystof Zanussi's star rose simultaneously with that of Edward Gierek. One after the release of Zanussi's first feature film, "Struktura Krystału" / "The Structure of Crystals" (1969), Gierek became First Secretary of the Polish United Worker's (Communist) Party. There, however, the parallelism of these two careers ended. Gierek's rule, ushered in by violence in the Baltic shipyards, sputtered through ten years of intensifying economic and political strife before ending in disgrace amid the worker's movement in 1980. Meanwhile, Zanussi had been writing and directing films that, as the seventies wore on, probed gradually more and more deeply into the moral fabric of the society underlying Gierek's regime. What Zanussi found there - corruption disillusionment, and a generally confused set of public values - was subtly startling depicted in his movies, particularly "Iluminacja" / "Illumination" (1973) and "Camouflage".
- David Paul and Sylvia Glover, Film Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 2, Winter, 1983-1984
Upon its release towards the mid 1970s, the film was not without controversy. In 2011 Zbigniew Zanussi spoke of the twisted mechanisms of the political party:
The most dramatic debate that took place at the Central Committee was about one sentence spoken by [Zbigniew] Zapasiewicz. Because at one point he says that most important is the selection of staff. And because it was a quote from Lenin, I was told that this was mocking [the system] and we needed to replace it. So in the end it was changed to "the most important is the selection of people".
This is the third digitally remastered film in Zanussi's filmography. Although "Camouflage" was made in 1976, the original negative was not particularly damaged by the passage of time. It turned out, however, that in some places, a few consecutive frames had been cut out from the negative. This was another hurdle met by the ten-member team in charge of the job, whereas the missing images had to be digitally generated.
Krzysztof Zanussi studied physics at the University of Warsaw, before pursuing a career in film. He once said that he chose to study physics because "the ideological pressure [of Stalinism] didn't apply to the world of precise calculation". It is perhaps ironic that he decided to dedicate much of his career to this very subject in his films.
"Barwy ochronne" / "Camouflage". Poland, 1976. Written and directed by Krzysztof Zanussi; Cinematography by Edward Kłosiński; Editing by: Urszula Śliwińska; Production design by: Tadeusz Wybult; Music by Wojciech Kilar. Cast: Piotr Garlicki (Jarosław Kruszyński), Zbigniew Zapasiewicz (Jakub Szelestowski), Christine Paul (Nelly Livington-Pawluk).
- 1977 - Grand Prix at the Film Festival in Gdańsk, "Golden Capricorn" at the International Film Festival in Tehran.
- 1878 - Critics award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival