Camera Buff, distinct from other films that represent the ‘cinema of moral anxiety’, can't be narrowed to its sociopolitical dimension. Krzysztof Kieślowski made a film which is not only a critical image of the late Gierek period but also a self-referential story about a fascination with film.
Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr), a supply worker in a big manufacturing plant, starts his film journey by accident. This undistinguished thirty-year-old labourer buys an 8mm camera to film his daughter’s birth. The newborn girl is quickly moved into the background as her father gets fully involved with his new hobby – filming. He's strongly encouraged by the factory’s supervisor (Stefan Czyżewski) who, understanding the relevance of ‘the most important of all the arts’, creates a small film club and asks Mosz to record all the more important events that occur in the workshop. Thanks to watching professional films and experimenting with his own creations, Mosz shortly masters the technical side of filmmaking, which brings him to win an amateur filmmakers award. Moving on with the technical side of shooting films leads Mosz to a reflection on the purpose of creating films at all. Film can be used as a tool both of creating a selective and propagandistic vision of reality and of exploiting what is unmarked and marginalised. Filip understands quickly that the filmmaker’s mission is to present the real, often hidden, dramas of men, not documenting buzzing jubilees. The supervisor sees the issue differently.
Only by acknowledging film’s way of functioning as a medium does Filip acquire a social and political consciousness. Mosz discovers that there are vast parts of reality that are superseded from public discourse, while the imposed perspective on life is based on lies and manipulations. Previously a satisfied and passive consumer, Mosz recognizes a need for ‘something more than just a constant piece’ and becomes socially involved. He risks not only his career but also his marriage. Does an amateur filmmaker really help anyone by showing various social ills or does he lead honest people to pay for truth disclosed? Mosz has to answer a question about the filmmaker’s ethic, the question that Kieślowski often asked himself as a documentarist. One thing becomes obvious for the protagonist: an analysis of the surrounding reality should begin with an analysis of oneself.
The film’s content lays along its restrained and spare form: similarly to Filip Mosz, Kieślowski focuses on typical, daily events when observing his protagonists. Camera Buff is a work of fiction done with a documentary's sensibilities. The impression of reality is strengthened by authentic figures, including Andrzej Jurga and Krzysztof Zanussi, who play themselves. Despite the fact that the film is settled in a certain reality, Camera Buff is not a temporary work of art as it may be read on different layers. Some find here a record of social moods in Poland of the 1970s, some others seek for a reflection on morality or on film’s role in general. The envoy’s universality effected in an international appreciation of the film (e.g. Gdynia, Moscow, Chicago) and brought Kieślowski his first big success.
Camera Buff, Poland 1979. Dir.: Krzysztof Kieślowski. Script: Krzysztof Kieślowski. Cinematography: Jacek Petrycki. Music: Krzysztof Knittel. Scenography: Andrzej Rafał Waltenberger. Cast: Jerzy Stuhr (Filip Mosz), Małgorzata Ząbkowska (Irka Mosz), Ewa Pokas (Anna Włodarczyk), Stefan Czyżewski (director), Jerzy Nowak (Stanisław Osuch), Tadeusz Bradecki (Witek Jachowicz) and others.
Production: Zespół Filmowy Tor. Colour, 117 min.
Author: Robert Birkholc, January 2016, translated by Antoni Wiśniewski, February 2016