Krzystof Kieslowski directed one of the more interesting self-reflexive films in 1979, when he filmed Camera Buff (Amator- literally Amateur), his second feature film, which runs an hour and fifty-two minutes. It is the one which made him a known commodity in the filmic world. While not a great film, it is a bit more successful a film than other fare from that era, such as his own Blind Chance, from 1981, and this film was a co-winner of the Grand Prize at the 1979 Moscow Film Festival, although that dubious festival's selections have long been known to be laughably bad, at their worst. As with many films made in countries with repressive countries, Camera Buff can get a bit didactic at times, but when it's not preaching it's a pretty good look at the art of filmmaking and the responsibility of an artist to himself and his art.
The tale is not a particularly fresh one, as it follows the life of a none too bright factory worker named Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr, who later appears in White), a typically mousey Polish man who loves to drink, who is contented with his life as a husband and father of a newborn baby girl Irenka. However, when he decides to buy an 8 mm Russian camera, that costs two months of his salary, to record his daughter's childhood, his life quickly unravels. His wife Irka (Malgorzata Zabkowska) does not support his hobby, and selfishly wishes him ill. Eventually, she will leave him and take their child, even as she is pregnant with a second child. Hers is a character that is typical of the non-artistic mindset, as are the managers at the local factory he works for, as a nationwide buyer, who decide to underwrite his `hobby' so he can film company propaganda about their Twenty-Fifth Anniversary. That and his subsequent films are rather dull treatises on banal aspects of life in a state run system, but somehow they get nominated for film awards at a local festival the company submits them to. In truth, they are particularly unartful films, which only highlights the absurdity of their political potential in a system where total faith is required.
Kieslowski has a good deal of fun with both the pomposity of such film festival sponsors, mere apparatchiks who clearly have no idea of what real art is, as well as poking fun at the bad artist types themselves, represented by a fiery character called The Lunatic, who hisses and rages at all such films. Filip's film wins third prize at the festival; really second prize, since all of the films are judged not good enough for a first prize. This is manifest to the viewer, but even the declarer of such dour judgments is shown satirically as a boob, and orates far too pompously about art. Of course, Filip's films attract the interest of a woman named Anna Wlodarczyk (Ewa Pokas), who is a national film board honcho who has slept her way to the top and soon becomes Filip's lover, as well as real-life Polish filmmaker Krzystof Zanussi, who gets Filip's films on local Polish television news, after meeting and arguing of film aesthetics with him in Lodz. Especially successful is a film Filip does on the life of a dwarf at the company. That this man is contented with his dull and deprived life says much of the dehumanizing conditions of Communism, but it also exposes Filip to the increasing censorship of the director of his company. The premise of this trope is that the camera can never be neutral, and all art is political. Of course, this is a fallacy, but one employed as the engine that sets this film in motion, despite its logical weakness and triteness....Camera Buff is a film that gives hints at the greatness Kieslowski had within, but it was still a few years away, and, even though it's a better film than Blind Chance, it's one that is probably best viewed after the later masterpieces, for then even its failures can have some resonances as trial runs for things other films would succeed far better at. Would that more people learned so well from their youthful endeavors.