Kinoteka 2015 – Camouflage – Review ****

camouflage

Fans of world cinema rejoice! As of the 8th of April the Kinoteka film festival is in town! Right away through the end of May, London will play host to some of the most exciting examples of Polish cinema around. One of the high points of the festival this year is going to be the segment Martin Scorsese presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin, and it promises to be as fascinating as it sounds, presenting 24 of the director’s favourite 20th century Polish films. Most of them are considered masterpieces worldwide, while others are not that well known outside Poland. But all are well known and much loved at home, as they open a window into the thoughts and feelings of Polish society all through the century, allowing society to express itself – albeit slightly ambiguously. In this sense, Camouflage is, it has to be said, rather aptly named. It hails from the year 1977, a period described on the festival website as being personified by a “moral anxiety” born from having to live in a corrupt communist country that few Polish actively supported. But even without knowing its context and political backdrop (and I must say I didn’t know as much as I should have done when I sat down to watch this film), it is very easy to spot the arguments and the dualities presented by this interesting little number.

The setting is a linguistics competition at a university’s summer camp. Jaroslav is a young, idealistic teacher and one of the class directors. He takes his job very seriously and tries his best to judge all the works he receives for the competition objectively and on merit. However, courtesy of his older and world-wise colleague Jakub, he is about to get a crash course in academic office politics and what “really” constitutes a good entry. Jaroslav is about to find out, rather brutally, that lofty sentiments and ambitions are all very well and good, but without being able to tick the boxes the administration wants you to tick, you don’t have much of a chance of going far…


First of all, the moment the film got underway, I really wished I spoke Polish. For starters the film is VERY dialogue heavy and speaking Polish would no doubt have enhanced my experience. Of course since you’re invariably watching a translation, there are times when your imagination has to fill in some of the blanks and you have to rely on a basic knowledge of context. Secondly, as the film is set (of all places) in a linguistics camp, I have no doubt that the dialogue on screen was chock-full of double entendres, and I am sorry I missed them. That said, you definitely don’t need to be a native Polish speaker to understand and appreciate what the film is trying to do.

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Interestingly, anxiety is exactly what is being expressed in this film. The head of the department is slightly portrayed as the embodiment of a fat cat, a large, oily looking man (not physically, but in the way he seems to know exactly all the right, “socially acceptable” things to say; and yet, underneath it all, there’s the main point that engenders unfairness and bad government). At this point in the proceedings, however, Jakub is not the villain of the story. Though we invariably side with the young, idealist Jaroslav and while Jakub teases, manipulates and belittles his younger colleague, he is not, by and large, a bad man. In fact we sense deep down that Jakub is not happy with his condition either, especially in the finale, when it becomes clear that Jakub is merely the symptom of a corrupt system and is painfully aware of it. “This is what it takes to survive around here” says Jakub, and keeping his tongue firmly in his cheek every opportunity he can get is the only way he seems to be able to cope with it.

Camouflage is a very interesting insight into the emotional landscape of Poland of the time. And this may, initially, make you think that it is a film very specific to a certain time and place, which you would find hard to sympathise with. But this is precisely where the qualities that make this film a classic come into play. It is, on a subjective level, a very, very insightful observation on what it takes to survive in a corrupt society, and how innocence and idealism gets eroded in such an environment… Whether in the context of a department, a company or a country in any place and time, it is sadly quite current and applicable…

A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Sedef moved to London three years ago to get her MA in Film Studies and never quite got round to going back home. As she once worked in a DVD company and watched films for a living, she started a personal blog (essiespeaks.blogspot.com) as a short answer to being constantly asked “watched anything interesting recently?” and loved blogging so much she just kept typing . She is the biggest Tarantino fan she knows and would be unable to choose a single film of his as a favourite.