In familial, social, and artistic terms, Camera Buff asks questions that still resonate in a world that is four decades advanced. Even though not an outright masterpiece like many of his subsequent films, the lasting impact of this work renders it to be one of Kieslowski’s most important films.
3.5 out of 4 stars
Throughout his career, great filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski was mostly concerned with two crucial themes. The first theme was the nature of the connection between people. Secondly, he focused on the definition of the self, especially after a setback or a change. Camera Buff, one of his earliest films, deals with both of these preoccupations. It tells the story of Filip Mosz, whose life changes when he starts using a video camera. The film follows his journey as he transforms from a happily married family-oriented man to a self-engrossed filmmaker. Additionally, it focuses on crucial issues that the art of cinema has been facing and still faces while endeavoring to reflect the society. The local party members dictate Filip to make films the way they want.
A life is born
Filip buys the camera during the time his wife is pregnant. The birth of the child occurs parallel with the birth of Filip the filmmaker. The two threads become counterpoint of each other, underlining Filip’s gradual deviation from his family. The lack of focus on his family contrasts heavily with the increased emphasis he develops for the outer world. Yet this is a man who is simply following his artistic preoccupations. He wants to use his art to do good for society. Is he wrong to record the reality of the world around him, works that decades later YouTubers might observe as important social documents?
The alternating arrangement of scenes with countering social values will become an approach that Kieslowski will apply in many of his future scenarios. The social responsibility that one person characterizes will contrast with the lack or differing morals of another. The chief examples of this are the two Short Film About… films and Three Colors: Red. Yet characters residing on both sides receive equal understanding from the filmmaker, evoking the subtle role that the society plays in justifying everyone’s actions.
Yet, when disillusions erode his passion, Filip starts regaining his familial values. This further underlines the notion that passion and domestic order might be inversely linked to one another. Something that many great names, from scientific to artistic worlds, have encountered in their own lives.
The responsibility of cinema
By imagining Filip as a documentary filmmaker, Kieslowski evokes conflicts that mar the essential ideas of both film and society. Filip wants to show the aspect of reality that everyone is ignoring. The political party members want him to show another dimension of society. The differing perceptions throw light on the bias of the latter. But perceiving evenly, it might be concluded that both are observing the reality. If one starts judging the other side based on their nature of perception, there will be no difference with the party members shown in the film. The question that the film then raises is one that has eternally consumed art, what IS reality?
Its definition is further rendered nebulous by the way the film-making world itself views reality. The film festival world has constructed its own norms based on which it evaluates art and reality. Filip is celebrated there. But not as much. Kieslowski questions the validity of the guidelines that govern such evaluations. With time, his own cinematic career will reflect this ideology. He will remain underrated for long. One reason for this is that he would fail to win most of the major awards, though getting nominated in all. Consequently, Criterion would not recognize him until the first decade of the 21st century. Since then his popularity as an auteur would rise drastically. Thus, the question resurfaces. Is the set of norms justified in recognizing one as the winner, while ignoring the rest?
One of Kieslowski’s most important films
The film thus raises a plethora of paradoxes that have both social and artistic significances. Kieslowski is concerned with the way we connect with the world around us, and the moralities of this relationship. In his future films, he will visualize this theme in diverse cinematic worlds. The results would be landmarking works in terms of originality and realization. Surprisingly, this film did not receive similar recognition. Might be because the fickleness of Filip gets to us. The structural tension between characters does not feel as intense as in Three Colors. But in familial, social, and artistic terms, Camera Buff asks questions that still resonate in a world that is four decades advanced. Even though not an outright masterpiece like many of his subsequent films, the lasting impact of this work renders it to be one of Kieslowski’s most important films.
Credits (from IMDb):
Krzysztof Kieslowski … (scenario)
Krzysztof Kieslowski … (dialogue)
Jerzy Stuhr … (dialogue)
Andrzej Archacki … co-cinematographer
Krzysztof Buchowicz … co-cinematographer
Krzysztof Jachowicz … co-cinematographer
Stanislaw Szablowski … co-cinematographer
Teresa Miziolek … co-editor