The central paradox of Kieslowski’s Camera Buff portrays an aspiring filmmaker, Filip, unable to balance his love of his family with his love of his art.
Kieslowski first raises this paradox with a strong ambiguity placed upon Filip’s pursuit of filmmaking in the film’s first act. The reticence over the place of the family in Filip’s life comes primarily from Filip’s wife, who sees all along that he has been blinded by a growing obsession. Kieslowski regularly punctuates her dialogue with some negative commentary on Filip’s filming.
However, even Filip initially has a limited understanding—or at least a sense—of the way his obsession might undermine his family. When Filip’s boss first enlists him to film the company’s anniversary celebrations, the boss cites an axiom of sorts, that cinema is the first great art. Filip responds that the quote came from Lenin, along with a decidedly confused, even disapproving look on his face. Filip wasn’t interested in making the film. And while some of that might have been the pressure of performing for regional bosses, the discomforting idea of moving away from family, already placed there by his wife, would have likely been in his mind. If Filip did indeed understand that tantalizing lure of obsession, he also had some choice in the matter. Kieslowski’s Filip is not some helpless mass of flesh prevailed upon by outside forces, but a willful man who chooses art over family.
Furthermore, Kieslowski carries an irony through the film that builds off of this notion of Filip’s vision or lack thereof: In his films, Filip seeks to present the world as it is, in a completely natural fashion. He even claims to want to see everything. Initially, this filmic desire was pointed at his family—Filip bought his first camera to film his newborn daughter. But as Filip turns the camera away from his family, he stops seeing them clearly. He gives in to the obsession. So we have a moment after a dispute with his wife: Filip should seek her out, but instead merely watches her walk away. Seeing the back of her head in the street as she walks home is enough for Filip.
Kieslowski could easily demonize this move from family to art, but he holds the tension by revealing the praiseworthy aspects of Filip’s work: the way his friend Piotr praises the film of his mother, or how the handicapped worker is moved by Filip’s television special about him. As the conflict with his wife grows, Filip is a man divided between good things. And yet, he leaves behind the greater good (his family)? Or does he? That is the question, I suppose.
Filip’s pursuit of his art to the neglect of his family ends tragically, but also with the promise that from his pain, a more acute sense of self will emerge. Kieslowski doesn’t provide Filip an easy way out of his predicament, instead leading him to point the lens at himself as he searches for answers. This final act by Filip seems to be a recognition of his situatedness. All seeing occurs within a context. Though some like Filip have tried to ignore their own context in order to present an “objective” view of their world, none have succeeded at such “lofty” expectations. When Filip filmed the deceitful way that his town had spruced itself up for a regional event, he felt that his “objective” vision of the truth had to be seen, despite his boss’ direction to keep the film under wraps. The “truth” of Filip’s film, he believed, was the most important thing. However, Filip discovered that his own position was not nearly as objective as he had thought. This is the final straw for Filip, who destroys his next film, another similarly-themed exposé. Without recognizing his own subjectivity and context, he could never make honest, truthful art.