Krzysztof Kieslowski's Camera Buff (1979), is part of Kino Video's second wave of Kieslowski releases, featuring four of his early features for the first time on DVD. With The Scar, Kieslowski left behind a 10 year career in documentary films to focus on feature filmmaking. His later works (The Three Colors Trilogy), separated by the time Kieslowski spent working on The Decalogue, are viewed as less overtly political, and much more poetic explorations of the themes found in these early films. In 1996, Kieslowski died of complications from a heart attack at the age of 54.
Co-winner of the grand prize at the 1979 Moscow film festival, Camera Buff is probably Kieslowski's most personal film. His second feature following The Scar, which was only distributed in Poland, Camera Buff helped to expose Kieslowski to the world. Its success also helped to shift his focus solely towards feature films. It seems fitting somehow that this film about an obsessive documentary filmmaker is often seen as the turning point in Kieslowski's career.
Humble factory worker, Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr, whose career with Kieslowski would stretch from The Scar to White), seems to have it all; a wife, a home, a job, Tranquility. That is until he spends 2 months pay to buy an 8mm camera to film his newborn daughter. He soon becomes enthralled with the power of the camera, the very power of creation. He turns his camera on anything that moves, filming everything around him. His new hobby doesn't go unnoticed, and he is approached by his boss to film the company's 25th anniversary celebration. Filip's boss asks that some "minor" changes be made to the completed film, which goes on to win third prize in an Amateur film competition.
With his boss' support, Filip starts a film club at work and is appointed as the company's official documentarian. Increased encouragement from professional filmmakers leads Filip to hone his craft further, resulting in increased disappointment from his wife. As Filip has become more enamored with his life behind the camera, he has grown more detached from his family. Shortly after telling Filip that she is pregnant with their second child, Filip's wife leaves him, taking his young daughter with her. In a heartbreaking scene, he frames the moment of her departure with his hands, viewing the dissolution of his marriage in the third person.
Filip barely seems to notice, as his filmmaking obsession is out of control. Defying a direct order from his boss, Filip submits a short film about a crippled worker at the factory to the State Television station. He believed that could show the truth in his films, exposing corruption at his factory and even within the local Party, but instead he starts to realize the responsibilities filmmaking brings. When Filip is given a choice to either destroy a new film he's been working on, or allow it to be used as propaganda, he realizes that he has been trapped by his employer. He turns the camera on himself in the end, telling us the story that we've just seen… his story.
Picture: The movie is presented in a full screen 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The picture looks good overall, but the colors seemed flat. This could have been an intentional decision in order to mirror the documentary style of the film.
Audio: There is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track in the Original Polish, which sounds fine.
Extras: The DVD Extras include interviews with film scholar Annette Insdorf, filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi (who appears in Camera Buff and filmmaker Agnieska Holland, Kieslowski's short film "Talking Heads" (1980), a complete Kieslowski Filmography and a Kieslowski Trailer Gallery featuring 6 trailers, including the theatrical trailer for Camera Buff.
Conclusion: Camera Buff might be Kieslowski's second feature but it already shows many of the qualities the filmmaker would become known for; his wit, his intelligence, his humanity. As a former documentarian himself, Kieslowski also seems to be implying that a filmmaker, and the very act of filming itself, removes any objectivity from a work. With the filmmaker's own ideas of what to, and not to, capture leaving its mark on the reality being presented. He once said, "I'm frightened of real tears. In fact, I don't even know if I have the right to photograph them." Camera Buff is a serious film that deals with real issues; censorship, obsession and the role of the artist under Communism. However, Kieslowski explores these weighty issues within an entertaining context.