Nominated for: Best Feature Debut
Kamper, the feature debut from Polish director Łukasz Grzegorzek, is an unpatronisingly modern story of marriage, decisions, and even simply life in general. Kamper (Piotr Żurawski) is a video games tester and a man who, as his name suggests, avoids confrontation in all areas of his life. He and his wife Mania (Marta Nieradkiewicz) face a bump in the road as it’s revealed that she’s had an affair with a famous chef in hope of bettering her career, and perhaps other reasons also. In response, as opposed to attempting to resolve the situation, Kamper acts on a whim with his newly acquired Spanish teacher, and from the outset this beautifully-paced film entreats you to watch.
There are many pitfalls which such a story and setting could fall into, but Grzegorzek avoids them. Handled deftly, the most notable was Kamper’s profession, and the frequent presence of video games throughout. More often than not this attempt to make a film or TV show modern seems forced or misunderstood and leads to an audience being disenfranchised with the project. In the case of Kamper however, nothing is made of it; it’s simply his job, much the same as we would accept a chef or lawyer.
“this beautifully-paced film entreats you to watch”
The story is undoubtedly a sad one, but the film is not miserable. Early on, despite their various shortcomings, Kamper and Mania endear themselves to their audience, a feat which ultimately heightens the unhappy tale. Aided by a wonderful script and brilliant supporting cast, Żurawski & Nieradkiewicz display fantastic talent on screen to achieve this. Improvisation was utilised throughout the production, which leads to an impressively natural flow in some of the less serious conversations, reminiscent of overhearing the table next to yours in the pub. When the action does meet a serious tone however, the actors do not shirk from the task.
There are several scenes of note, but a couple stand out even beyond the others: Kamper dancing alone in a gaudily lit bar, which continues much longer than anticipated, somehow conveys intense emotion; and a rather stylised leap to a TV cooking show which is a blend of Masterchef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Iron Chef. It’s even better than it sounds.
Kamper is clearly a project on which all involved had great passion and dedication. Each element of the film is carefully detailed (I particularly enjoy the indecisiveness of going for a run yet having a cigarette), and despite the heavy presence of improvisation, nothing is left to chance. The film is an often hilarious, and ultimately heart breaking, take on modern romance, modern life itself, and the loneliness new freedoms can bring.
Image: Łukasz Grzegorzek