Amator – The Camera Buff

Poland, 1979

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

With Jerzy Stuhr (Filip Mosz), Malgorzata Zabrowska (Irka Mosz), Stefan Czyzewski (the company director), Jerzy Nowak (Stanislaw Osuch), Tadeusz Bradecki (Witek Jachowicz), Ewa Pokas (Anna Wlodarczyk)

The plot could be rightly summed up as the tale of characters quite satisfied with the life they have until they discover out of the blue a hobby that stun and excite them well beyond what they imagined; they get so devoted and mad about it that they kick their routine and even put themselves in the line of fire.

In this case, the lead character was just reckoning to keep visual records, that is moving images, which are also images that moves the heart, of the baby he is going to have. So Filip Mosz bought a camera and was thrilled to shoot the child his beloved wife Irka Mosz was bearing – and delivers as the film starts.

An unexpected cameraman shooting life at all costs- and then paying a heavy price: Jerzy Stuhr

But word spreads in the company where he works at the sales department he has a camera and learns to shoot – if only because he showed it to his work colleagues during the alcohol-drenched party he gave in his apartment to celebrate the birth of the long-expected daughter. The company director then asks the young father a favor: could he shoot a short about the ceremony for the company that is planned in the next few days? The director feels it could be nice, and important, to have records of a big day for the business, which would include meetings with high-ranking officials but also feature a concert. Filip Mosz is stunned and then embarrassed: he is certainly up to snuff, the task is too complicated. But he is convinced otherwise by the firm and encouraging words of the director and Stanislaw Osuch, the sales department head, the man in charge of the cultural activities the company must offer to the employees, and a nice acquaintance.

It turns out he enjoys shooting – and the stuff is rather good. And this first full day of filmmaking proves to be life-changing, the shy and unassuming worker, with a fairly dull and quiet life, getting caught up in a system a world away from what he has been used to expect and widening his horizon while disclosing skills he did not think possessing. His short film for the company is watched by a woman organizing festivals and promoting filmmakers, Anna Wlodarczyk, and gets a reward – the event, which highlights how insecure and overwhelmed by the way things play out for him Filip Mosz is, is a stepping stone that slowly drives him deeper in the world of cinephilia and cinema. He creates a movie club in the company to make more films, with the blessing of Stanislaw Osuch, who is pleased but astounded to watch Filip Mosz getting so earnest for a hobby he ignored weeks ago, and the help of colleague Witek Jachowicz. He goes oftener and oftener to the flicks, picks up film journals at the newsstands, attends conferences made by famous cineastes, in this case Krzysztof Zanussi, and sends his works to the Polish state television, where they are welcomed warmly by television manager and filmmaker Andrzej Junga. It is like an implausible dream becoming reality.

But the most important and heartbreaking image, picturing a turning point, symbolizing tragedy, has not been taken by his camera – actually, it appeared when at long last he puts his camera down during this celebratory day at the company, stopping shooting frantically and even stupidly. He looks through a window and just sees it, without fully comprehending what it means perhaps. What goes on the screen is a long shot on a passageway, taken at high angle (from the place where he stands, so this is a POV shot), featuring a lone woman walking briskly away from the building.

She is Irka. This is a break: so far, she used to be shot along her hubby, most of the time in medium shots. She has never been thrilled by the buying of the camera and got worried by the director’s proposal. From now on, she gets more and more hostile to Filip’s newfound passion. The couple’s life soon turns into a roller coaster of opposite feelings till she drops him overnight, going back to her mother’s home with the baby. Irka does no longer recognize the man she married, struggles to understand him, and feels getting evicted from his life. They can no longer watch the world the same way, they can no longer stay in the same shot composition, they are getting in fact separated by the glasses of windows and doors (witness the deeply sad scene when Filip is calling Anna Wlodarczyk in a public phone and realizes through a window he has been noticed by Irka, who clearly did not expect to view him in such a place and at such a time and shows bitter disappointment; but her glare is not enough to prod Filip into hanging up). And Filip’s awkward behaviors and words, with the occasional outburst of anger, make it hard to mend fences. “Amator – The Camera Buff”, in the clearest manner, tracks how the success of a hobby causes the failure of a marriage. Is art a curse?

The lively record of the talk between Krzysztof Zanussi and the audience is a high point of the growing ascent of Filip as a film buff and would-be artist, an eye-opening experience, an exhilarating moment of thought and artistic emotion. But the camera is far more tamed, and the settings quite different, when later the director and the employee have a long talk in the countryside, the key moment of the film’s final section. If he has often comes across as gruff and suspicious, the director proves to be also candid and gentle. His previous warnings look like prescience: now Filip is running into trouble, as his new project investigates the changes, or rather lack of, their town has undergone a year after it hosted a big television entertainment. Their previous sparring over the screening of a short portraying, on kind and honest terms, the life of a company’s old worker, who is also a dwarf, could have been dismissed as a silly fuss about corporate image by a control freak willing to censure the camera buff. But actually it laid the groundwork for the real conflict. The director is all too aware that there are things that should not be exposed; he is seasoned enough, lucid enough too, to know that there are limits not to be trespassed; the fact is hypocrisy and lying by omission is the best way to survive, for shock and scandal bring no good. Filip Mosz, completely taken with his passion, his view of cinema as a way to reach authenticity, truth, life, is indignant. And then concedes the point. Art is a curse – could it have been otherwise in the Communist-ruled Poland of 1979?

This is a remarkably perceptive and reflective work, which is not deprived of emotions, quite the contrary. The moving images happen to move a regular worker with little intellectual, artistic, or political interests into uncharted territories, to spur him into viewing the world differently but at the same time, in a pathetic and ironic twist, to move him out of what has been a haven, the family nest he wanted to celebrate with his camera but he thoughtlessly unraveled with his zeal. They both open the eyes and blind the heart, they reveal the world and draw into danger and darkness, they bring elation and success and they cause sadness and failure. This is sober, pessimistic dialectics, especially for such a quiet, gentle fellow; it is an amazingly critical and reasoned approach on his very art by the director shooting the vagaries of Filip Mosz. However, Krzysztof Kiewslowski does not end his feature with a dead end shaped by arid thoughts and depressing images, even though the shots of a disheveled lead character living in a mess and losing track of time are not reassuring. But Filip Mosz takes up his camera again, only to train it on his face and starts a narrative. So cinema can still help and deliver something to the world, if only an intimate, first-person story. But that would now be his own story developing as he thought over it, a quest for authenticity and sincerity, a desire to record and show life, that is what has drove him so far, and what Kiewslowski has been hunting all along.

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