Camera Buff (Krzysztof Kieslowski / Poland, 1979):

"Cinema is the first art. Who said that?" "Lenin." The path from amateur to cineaste, or from just existing in the world to recording it and maybe transforming it. The cinematic curiosity of the factory worker (Jerzy Stuhr) is born in tandem with his daughter -- he buys an 8mm camera to capture his baby's first steps, and rapidly discovers editing, symbolism and censorship. The "born cameraman" emerges while covering the company's anniversary celebration, sprinkling bread crumbs on a window sill for a shot of pigeons praised for its naturalism. His "real gift of observation" is hailed at a festival, and the critic who had decided not to pass out any awards then appreciates the way Stuhr unwittingly invents a God's eye composition from a balcony by pointing the lenses at the workers on the street. In Krzysztof Kieslowski's self-reflexive satire of the burgeoning artiste, the medium is both moral trumpet and siren's call. The protagonist pours through film books and pauses at a photo from Kes -- the falcon from Loach's film here tears into a flock of chickens after the credits, a passage later revealed as a bad dream by the budding director's anxiously disapproving wife (Malgorzata Zabkowska). Stuhr gets advice from Krzysztof Zanussi, considers a fling with a pretty programmer, and compulsively simulates a viewfinder with his fingers: The marriage implodes, the company's corruption is exposed by a documentary at the cost of his friends' jobs. The camera is a diary, a home-wrecking mistress, a recorder of life (and death), a confessional, a manipulator and a truth-seeker -- to the protagonist, and to Kieslowski, it is a way of going beyond literalism into the other side of the interpretive spectrum. (One example: Curtains part at the doctor's office and the hospital's three-story hallway fills up the screen, simultaneously a place for patients and nurses and a pregnant image of passageways, sickness, and recovery.) Kieslowski lays the foundation of robust realism and takes off in a search for transcendence: Once that's done, all that's left is to recall Peeping Tom and turn the camera on yourself. With Stefan Czyzewski, Ewa Pokas, Jerzy Nowak, Tadeusz Bradecki, and Andrzej Jurga.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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