Camera Buff: And the Thrill of Sudden Passion

Sometime at the middle of the film, in a moment of wisdom, a side-character tells the protagonist a story about a man who found God at the age of thirty, an upheaval that was so strong it resulted in priesthood, and while this metaphor does nothing but fly by the naïve Filip, it perfectly describes what Krzysztof Kieslowski tries to say through his 1979 film, Camera Buff, and criticizes the abrupt passion that often overtakes one in later stages of life and does more bad than good. This is a devastatingly strong, overwhelmingly passionate film, a story of extremes where the bridge is obliterated and the switch is anything but smooth, resulting in a slow burn of uncomfortable reflection on the selfishness and the consuming fallouts of sudden passion, and one of the finest films by a director whose impressive filmography never ceases to amaze.

Camera Buff tells the story of Filip Mosz, a small, content factory worker with a wife who loves him and with a newborn girl to raise in a happy home. As his wife is in the last stages of her pregnancy, Filip gets a camera to film his daughter for her to see when she grows up, thus becoming the only one in his village with a camera. What starts off simply as a fun activity of taking short 8mm clips of his family and friends turns into a job offer by his boss, who wants him to document an upcoming party. Filip, who is already so attached to his camera, it’s almost always stuck to his face, takes the job and films everything from the music performances to guests going to the bathroom and pigeons flying by. The film, after going through the heavily censored editing of his boss, is submitted to a film festival, where it wins a prize and launches Filip’s career of filmmaking and triggers the demise of every other component of his life, as his passion completely takes over him and his perception of the world.

In the first act of the film, Filip tells his wife that he is happy because he has all he has ever wanted, a home, a wife and a daughter, a life of peace and quiet, and this beautiful illusion is glamorously portrayed in the first stages of life, the pains and bores of daily life are shown as worthwhile and inviting, Jerzy Stuhr’s performance of a sheepish, fulfilled worker only adds to the impression of a quiet uneventful life that would be a challenge to be disturbed. The change towards extreme passion with a camera that wrecks this very same peaceful homelife and consumes all else is not done at once, it is done gradually and very slowly, but it is never felt at all, until suddenly, the Filip we knew at the beginning of the film is no more and we are in the company of a selfish, mad man with a camera and not a care for anything else.

Camera Buff takes a man with a profound perception of reality, not necessarily on a quest to comment, but merely observe, gives him a camera and sets him loose in a world where he survived on the bare minimum, with never a thought to self-expression. The result, as you may probably guess, is an intense obsession with saying something through this newfound tool of expression, doesn’t matter what that thing is or if it matters or should be said, but for Filip, it has to be. After a year of pointing the lens of his 8mm camera at everybody and everything, after making a few short films and gaining moderate fame, after acquiring a more advanced 16mm camera, Filip finally points it towards himself and does what he never did with the world, he criticizes.

While Camera Buff mainly criticizes the negative sides of extreme passion, throughout its runtime, it sheds light on many other subjects, and while film here is portrayed not in the most positive of images, when we are in the company of Filip and his cinephile friends, one can’t help but respect the incredible power of this ultimate art form, with Kieslowski often portraying the beautiful sides of it, like allowing a mourning son to accept his mother’s death through a still of her from a film, or giving fulfillment to a worker who slaved his life away in a factory. The censorship of the then-Communist Poland is also condemned in favor of artistic freedom, Filip’s first assignments are heavily regulated by his boss, and it is not until he makes friends with important people in the film industry that he is able to make the films he wants to make. Film is a very pressing theme in Camera Buff, and both its beautiful joys and dangerous potential are explored meticulously, the latter being potently portrayed with Filip destroying a film he had worked hard on upon realizing what it cost along the way.

Camera Buff is an incredibly powerful film where latent passion is both drive and obstacle, and where the power and urge to self-express is so overwhelming it destroys all else. Through its protagonist, Filip, Krzysztof Kieslowski displays in an entrancing film just how devastating and ugly passion can be if left untamed, as it usually is. A tour de force, and an absolute-must.  


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