“Camera Buff” is a 1979 film from Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski about an eccentric and reserved man and his infatuation with his newly purchased movie camera. Jerzy Stuhr brilliantly plays Filip, a loving and content husband who spends two weeks worth of salary on a small 8mm video camera in order to film his new baby girl. Filip is a nervous, circumspect man who you feel is perfectly happy with his quiet and confined life.
But things change when a local Communist Party boss assigns him the task of filming a celebration at the plant where he works. Filip reluctantly agrees. His film is deemed a success and eventually is entered into a competition at an amateur filmmaker’s festival where it wins third place. Filip’s films become his obsession and he grows impervious to the destructive effects that his new addiction is having on his crumbling marriage. He also fails to understand the serious consequences of unbridled enthusiasm.
In “Camera Buff” Kieslowski touches on numerous weighty subjects including the oppressive nature of communism. The film takes place in Communist Poland sometimes during the 1970′s and you can really sense the heavy authoritarian feel. From the cinematography to the conversations, I really felt as if there was a bigger, ever-present enemy lurking in the background. Not just an enemy to the people but to their freedom of creation and expression. It’s brilliantly realized.
Kieslowski also does a remarkable job showing the power of filmmaking. For example, Filip makes a film about a “dwarf” who has been working at the factory for years and is nearing retirement. We see the power of film as the man tells Filip how deeply moved he was by it. One of Filip’s neighbors seriously struggles with the death of his mother but recalls that Filip filmed him and his mom in a happier time. Filip shows him the film and it gives him a much needed level of comfort and peace. These things fuels Filip’s love for filming but it also clouds his vision and keeps him from seeing the damage it’s doing to his home life.
“Camera Buff” deals with an assortment of other themes and does so very effectively. As the film progressed, it had me wondering if I was witnessing a young filmmaker realizing and finding his dream or watching an obsessed husband and father heading down a path of self-destruction. The movie is marked by an amazing performance by Stuhr, a stimulating story, and strong direction, both handled by Kieslowski. It doesn’t shy away from emotional or even provocative material and is nearly perfect in it’s execution. This is a magnificent film and a nice introduction to Kieslowski’s work for anyone who hasn’t seen his pictures.