Camouflage (Barwy ochronnie) (13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival/Masterpieces of Polish Cinema) Review
Jaroslaw (Piotr Garlicki) is a young teacher at a linguistics summer school held in a Polish country house. While the students try to position themselves to their best advantage, and Jaroslaw has an affair with one of them, the English Nelly (Christine Paul), he also comes under the sway of his older colleague Jakub (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz) who tries to persuade him that honesty is not always the best policy and other methods may be the best way forward. "It's not what is said that counts," Jakub tells him, "but who it's said by and where."
Krzysztof Zanussi, born in Warsaw in 1939 of Polish and Italian heritage, studied physics and philosophy at University and both of these have been reflected in his work for the cinema. Three of his films feature in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema season, all digitally restored at 2K resolution. Camouflage (Barwy ochronne) was made in 1977 and is, like the earlier The Illumination (Iluminacja) (reviewed here by Clydefro Jones as part of Second Run's Polish Cinema Classics Volume II DVD box set) and the later The Constant Factor (Constans) very much a film of ideas, a comedy with a bitter aftertaste.
Not having the Makavejev-like essay structure with documentary inserts that The Illumination has, Camouflage is a more conventionally structured piece of work, but still hits home with its theme of idealism thwarted by bureaucracy, cynicism and compromise, even if it is delivered with a light touch. An example of this is an insistence that a swimming pool on site is cleaned and filled just so the fat Vice-Rector (Mariusz Dmochowski) can do a few lengths. Zanussi keeps all his characters at an ironic distance but there's no questioning the precision of his direction, Edward Klosiński's natural-light cinematography, and the calibre of the acting. Piotr Garlicki continues to act to this day. Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, who won a Polish Film Festival award for this performance (Camouflage also won Best Film and Best Screenplay), was a regular figure in Polish cinema from the mid 1960s to his death in 2009, acting regularly for Zanussi, Zanussi's friend Krzysztof Kieślowski - to whose works Zanussi's show thematic similarities, if not always stylistic ones - and others. Christine Paul is an Anglo-Polish actress, born in London, who acted in the UK as well as in Poland – she made her debut in Deep End, directed by another Pole, Jerzy Skolimowski.
Camouflage was Poland's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, though failed to make the shortlist. It had a UK cinema release in 1979 and will be released on DVD by Second Run on 25 May as part of their Polish Cinema Classics Volume III box set.
Camouflage is showing on 8 and 14 April at the BFI Southbank, London, as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema strand of the 13th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. The screening on 8 April will be followed by a Q & A with Krzysztof Zanussi. Tickets for both showings are still available at the time of writing.