Criterion Prediction #15: Camera Buff, by Alexander Miller
Title: Camera Buff
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Cast: Jerzy Stuhr, Malgorzata Zabkowska, Ewa Pokas, Stefan Czyzewski, Jerzy Nowak
Synopsis: An autobiographical film from Kieslowski about Filip Mosz (played Kieslowski regular Jerzy Stuhr), who buys an 8mm camera in order to make home movies after the birth of his daughter. However, the camera generates an interest in filmmaking and this leads him to becoming a filmmaker. Filip is approached by the local boss of the Communist Party to film an upcoming jubilee. His final product is compromised by party officials who want to cut important scenes from his finished film. After making some concessions in the editing suite, Filip wins the third prize at a small film festival thus inspiring him to hone his craft and dedicate his time to being a filmmaker. As a result, his domestic responsibilities are put on the back burner, and his new found passion compromises his family life.
Critique: Kieslowski wears his heart on his sleeve in his personal film about the (occasionally) corrosive pursuit of art and the damaging effects of censorship. The metaphorical component of Camera Buff might sound too on the nose, but Kieslowski excels in this field by deftly weighing the human and political elements to a degree that sidesteps preachy heavy-handedness. Life in Communist Poland is presented realistically and the distancing nature of artistic passion is treated just the same. The underlying themes aren’t really “underlying.” They’re right in front of us all the while. Kieslowski explores the complexities of life and politics in an uncomplicated and non-intrusive manner. This comes as little surprise seeing as factory workers, coal miners, and bureaucratic institutions were regularly featured in his earlier documentary work which clearly informs the style of his feature films.
Kieslowski’s movies feel like fictionalized back stories he modeled after the subjects of his documentaries; Camera Buff is the director’s own account. Jerzy Stuhr, a recurring figure in the director’s filmography, is great as the amateur director, a convincing and likable likeness of the perceived “everyman.” Unfortunately, Kieslowski’s career ended with his untimely death at the age of 54. Camera Buff provides us with insight into beginning of the director’s life instead of his end, which is something many critics tend to get hung up on in analyzing his later features in the Three Colors trilogy.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: Criterion has done great work with the later era films from Kieslowski. The Double Life of Veronique, the Three Colors trilogy are standout titles in the Criterion catalogue, but Kieslowski’s earlier work has more energy and political fervor, so seeing Blind Chance get a spine number was a celebratory event for me. For the longest time the director’s earlier films (including Blind Chance) were only available on Kino Video’s Krzysztof Kieslowski DVD Collection. However, this collection was on the pricey side and if I’m pretty sure it is OOP. The Kino DVD collection contains some of the director’s best work, The Scar, Camera Buff, No End, Blind Chance, and the two extended entries from The Decalogue series A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. All of which, are worthy of the Criterion treatment. With Blind Chance in the collection and Camera Buff and others titles that were in the Kino set featured on Criterion’s Hulu channel we can hopefully anticipate more from Kieslowski in the collection. Furthermore, Camera Buff is an important film marking a new era in the director’s career. Seeing this with the 4K restoration that Blind Chance received would be exemplary.