Camera Buff Review

It all starts when Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr) buys a little 8mm movie camera to film his new-born baby. Like a true enthusiast, Filip enters into the spirit of his new hobby, filming everything that moves and working on the material on a small editing suite. When he is commissioned by his boss to film a reception being held to commemorate the company’s 25th anniversary, he becomes aware of the pressures of outside expectations and even censorship. The film however gets entered into an amateur film festival and wins third prize (second prize really since none were judged good enough to win first prize!) and he soon finds himself caught up in the world of TV and film-making, helped by an attractive film producer. Suddenly he finds that his new hobby isn’t compatible with the responsibilities of bringing up a small child, nor is it compatible with the wishes of his employer.

Camera Buff (Amator) is in many ways Kieslowski’s most openly biographical film, although there are a lot of the director’s personality and ideas in all his films. What starts out as a harmless hobby develops into a passionate calling. Before he really knows what is happening or what exactly he is doing, Filip starts to become aware of the complexities of film-making and the responsibilities it brings. A simple edit can change the whole meaning of a scene, can change the audience’s whole attitude to a person. When one has a responsibility towards depicting the truth, how can one be sure of objectivity and the consequences and perceptions of those images when they are shown? In the end Filip turns the camera on himself and tells a story, the film coming now from within – the only way he can know his film’s will not falsely portray another person.

This is a marvellous film. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s relevant - it’s Kieslowski. It’s Kieslowski in the way he can blend all these elements, constructing a story with clarity and precision, examining the issue in hand with a documentary-maker’s rigorous questioning and probing of all conceivable angles. With Kieslowski also, you know that every frame and image is important – nothing is added for elaboration, decoration or for aesthetic reasons. It is also pure Kieslowski in the way he handles the subject matter with warmth, sensitivity, humanity and a sense of humour.

Generally the picture quality on the Artificial Eye Region 2 release is very pleasing. It’s a little soft – colours look a bit faded and dull, but this is probably intentional and a stylistic choice. Blacks are often strong with good contrast levels, possibly a bit light in places, but again, that could be down to original material and the conditions in which it was filmed. There is one long tramline scratch in a latter scene, but as this disappears in cut-aways, it is clearly on the original negative. Otherwise, there is hardly a mark on the print, the picture is stable (one or two frames excepted, where there appears to be a bit of telecine wobble) and it is correctly presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

There’s not a great deal to say about the sound. The original Polish mono soundtrack is more than adequately presented in Dolby Digital 2.0.

Annette Insdorf Introduction (13:06)
Insdorf provides a fabulous commentary on the film. It’s not really an introduction though, unless you want a pretty full analysis of the film’s background, its themes and its scenes before you watch it. The only thing Insdorf fails to comment on or give adequate attention to is the humour in the film. As well as everything else, Camera Buff is a very funny film.

Krzysztof Zanussi Interview (17:44)
The famous Polish film director gives an excellent account of his friendship and working relationship with Kieslowski. As well as some insights into Camera Buff in which he appears as himself, he gives a fine overview of the director’s talents and his career. A very rewarding interview.

Agnieska Holland Interview (5:07)
Holland talks about the background to the making of Camera Buff and her involvement in it. The discusses the difficulties and criticism Kieslowski faced in his attempts to be balanced and fair to all points of view, even those of the Communist authorities.

Talking Heads (14:29)
A Kieslowski documentary from 1980, Talking Heads features a series of interviews with different people from a baby born in 1979 to a hundred year-old lady, answering the questions, who are you and what would you like.

A full filmography is provided, covering Kieslowski’s short films, documentaries, TV work and feature films.

Camera Buff may be an early Kieslowski film and his style, aided by regular collaborators Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Zbigniew Preisner, certainly would become more sophisticated in terms of plotting, imagery and symbolism by the time he made the Three Colours Trilogy, but Camera Buff is still pure Kieslowski in the way he examines his subject thoroughly, with complete mastery of the content and its presentation. Camera Buff is a great film that entertains, enlightens and gives you something to think about.

8 out of 10
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