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CAMERA BUFF (AMATOR)(director/writer: Krzysztof Kieslowski; screenwriter: Jerzy Stuhr; cinematographer: Jacek Petrycki; editor: Halina Nawrocka; cast: Jerzy Stuhr (Philip Mosz), Malgorzata Zabkowska (Irka Mosz), Ewa Pokas (Anna), Jerzy Nowak (Osuch), Stefan Czyzewski (The Director), Tadeusz Bradecki (Witek), Krzysztof Zanussi (Himself), Andrzej Jurga (Himself); Runtime: 112; Film Polski; 1979-Poland)
“This is a political spoof on the limits of the artist’s role in Communist Poland.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

To make artistic films in a repressed country is very difficult, but to make documentaries is easier because the filmmaker is not expected to be after something politically dangerous; therefore, he is thought of as less of a risk.

This film is about how a factory worker, Philip Mosz (Stuhr), who bought himself a cheap hand-held 8 mm Russian camera (costing him two months salary) for the birth of his daughter, to record her birth and infant years, gets involved in starting a new career because of his camera. His boss (Stefan Czyzewski) spotted the camera and asked him to make a movie about the factory. From that humble beginning, he knew that this would be his vocation. He thought he could make a difference in society by pointing out how things really are by exposing any corruption and giving people a true record of how they are living.

Kieslowski went from making documentaries to making this fictional film and in some ways this film is semi-autobiographical, as it shows what an artist could do with just a camera.

Philip is the central focus of the film, as he undergoes a personality transformation. We first see him as a picture of contentment: he is satisfied with his job as a procurer traveling around Poland buying products for his factory; and, we see him satisfied with his marriage–he even mentions, “If someone wants only one thing in life, he’ll get it.” And he shares with his wife what they both wanted, a simple and quiet existence.

When Philip shows the completed film to his boss about factory life, it is met with approval except for four minor changes the boss insists upon. The naive new filmmaker has no qualms about getting rid of the pigeons he mistakenly put in the film; but, Philip doesn’t understand why he can’t leave in the film the men coming out of the lavatory, or the men taking money behind a curtain, or showing the little man with glasses in many of the scenes.

After winning third prize for the film in a contest sponsored by the film club, the movie bug has really bitten Philip. He has joined the film club and he gets romantically interested in one of the club leaders, Ana (Ewa), who makes it her personal business to see that he gets help in his new film career. Philip’s wife becomes displeased with him for spending so much time away from the family and threatens to walk out on him, which she will shortly do. But Philip can’t stop filming anything that moves, as his techniques and artistic plans grow. To get help, the club introduces him to Krzysztof Zanussi for advice. They also get him a meeting with Andrzej Jurga, who tells him to make a film about a worker and he’ll see that it gets on TV. This turns out to be a bitter-sweet trap for Philip because he gets his work on TV and it is met with success, as his friends and neighbors who watched it really enjoyed it — but his boss is displeased that it is about a cripple in the factory. He does not blame Philip for doing it because he is young but blames his superior, the elderly and kind-hearted Osuch (Nowak), for allowing it to go on TV. He forces Osuch to resign from his post as head of culture and coerces him into early retirement. It seems that even though he didn’t intend to, Philip hurts those who are not responsible for what he does.

This is a political spoof on the limits of the artist’s role in Communist Poland. It comically exaggerates the film buff’s growing pathology and voyeuristic tendencies. The power in the story was in the subtle reminders, showing that behind the obvious censorship there is a real censorship problem for everyone, it is not only in the conflicts between the artist and the authorities–but, for both the artist and the viewer who must demand that the truth and integrity of the work be preserved. Poland is a good example of such a battlefield, with the then state-owned film industry in charge of funding projects. Therefore documentary films are sometimes the best records of such history and Kieslowski has shown to make a film as wickedly ironical as this one is and get it past the censors, is possible.

Since the film’s theme has been done many times before and the comic efforts of the film were rather flat, what made this film provocative and more than ordinary was the absorbing performance by Jerzy Stuhr. He would become a regular in many of the director’s later films, which spanned a career of over 20 years. Stuhr was able to make this political tale into a human interest story; something that deceptively caught the artist’s struggle, highlighting the conflict over his compulsion to film and his personal sacrifice of losing his family.

For the filmmaker, as Kieslowski sees it, home-life is secondary to working. The film is memorable, though it is not one of the director’s top-flight artistic works.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”