Saturday, 21 August 2010

Camera Buff


Filip and Irenka are expecting their first child. They've recently moved into a new flat, they are happily married, Filip has a good job and then the baby arrives. At the age of 30 Filip has it all - he's even bought a Russian made 8mm film camera to film his new daughter growing up. The film is set in a small Polish town in 1979 in the communist era. The buildings, pavements, mud, sky and cars are all shades of anonymous grey. Colour is brought by the lives of the characters.

Filip's bosses discover he has a camera and ask him to film the 25th Jubilee celebrations as a record for the factory. Filip's initial attempts are clumsy and he is always in the way. However, he has a nose for what makes good cinema and follows his instinct which brings into conflict with the factory's Director. This conflict is ongoing as Filip develops his own creative documentary style peppered with flashes of creative interludes. Such is the paucity of film making in Poland that Filip is invited to enter the film in a national film festival where he wins third prize. This inflames his addiction to film making and he forms a film making club with his colleagues.

Filip's new-found celebrity and increasing addiction begin to force a wedge between him and Irenka who is struggling after the birth of their daughter. He films their daughter as she has her nappy changed  and Irenka chastises Filip for filming the new baby in its nakedness. Filip engages in new projects, flirts with a national film celebrity who is well-connected and eventually lands a commission from national TV. All of these serve to unwillingly push him and Irenka further apart. Filip does not want this but as with any addiction is powerless to stop it. Eventually his wife leaves him to go and stay with her mother.

Filip's film making style is documentary - he wants to portray things as they are. He uses the camera to expose what he considers to be institutional corruption when he films behind the fa├žade of the town's buildings to reveal the decay and squalor the towns folk actually live in. This film brings great acclaim and Filip embarks on filming workers from the local brick works who have not been producing bricks for some months because of a shortage of supplies - instead they have been sent around the town to tidy it up. This brings him into a direct conflict with his work's Director again - a suitably rotund and comparatively well-dressed man in a stereotypical portrayal of the communist anomaly that some are more equal than others. He explains to Filip that funds given to the town to improve its buildings were diverted into projects for a much needed hospital and nursery and that Filip is not presenting the true reality because people in his position don't understand full picture. Central authorities become unhappy with Filip's portrayal of ordinary life and cut off funding to the town. Some of Filip's colleagues are made redundant as a consequence of his activities.

Filip experiences an epiphany and races to the station to recover the brick works film before it goes off to the TV company. Dramatically he opens the canister and throws the spool down the street unwinding the undeveloped negative and exposing it to the light thereby ruining it. This mirrors his own conscience and understanding having been exposed but his friend cannot understand his actions - that Filip has learned the responsibility that accompanies using a lens to provide an interpretation of what the camera sees. He has learnt the power of story - it's power to inspire, to represent and misrepresent, to engage in a moral crusade the unintended consequences of which bring greater harm on others and his community.

This film is semi auto-biographical of its director Krzysztof Kieslowski. It is a powerful film that sets out the responsibilities film makers - and creators of art - have. His addiction to tell the truth in a creative way cost him his marriage, his colleagues their jobs, his town its redevelopment. It is little wonder that Kieslowski was always wary of institutional authority and that this is a recurring theme in his films. This film was his first feature length drama and it established him on the main stage of film making. As with all Kieslowski films it explores the moral and emotional dynamics of the characters. It is possible to say that in following his new-found vocation as a film maker, Filip lost his vocation as a husband, father and resposnsible colleague.

The power to be creative is gripping and can become all-consuming. We are after-all made in the image of God who is the Great Creator. The film invites us to reflect on commitment, morality, vocation and self-sacrifice. Is it right that 'art' can drive all of these things from us and turn us into something new? What happens when we find fulfilment in these things but lose everything else? The film ends in a way as it began. Filip turns the camera on himself and we see his face reflected in the lens - he is alone, naked, now he is the subject of scrutiny by the camera - just like his little daughter was.

A first class film. I'll give 8.5/10.

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