A bright light in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Film Festival in November 2016 was director and co-writer Lukasz Grzegorzek’s film debut and Bildungsroman, Kamper, one of the three films in the festival presented by the Polish Cultural Council. The film’s focus, appropriately, is Kamper (Piotr Zurawski), a millennial man-boy with a job in video game development, a career perfectly fit for a kid (in a world devoid of child labor laws). Yet, he is married, which, in some cases, can prove to be a sign of maturity, but as much as the couple’s playfulness and congeniality might suggest otherwise, this is not one of those cases. In fact, Kamper is unable to demonstrate sophistication even in the most intimate of settings, which is “the exact moment,” as his wife, Mania (Marta Nieradkiewicz) notes, “when [his] jokes cease to be funny.”
Kamper learns early in the film that Mania has “kissed someone” as she blatantly and dismally informs him amidst one of their lighthearted bits. What follows are his uneven, juvenile attempts to redirect his displeasure or perhaps to inflict similar feelings upon Mania. His actions are tiresome almost in the same way a child is unable to sit still. Rather than become frustrated, you are forced to sigh and assume it is an understanding or ability he will acquire in time. It is because of this that neither Kamper nor Mania is especially likeable or unlikeable. It might be reasonable to assume that Mania would be portrayed as heartless or entirely at fault. Even though Kamper has the film’s namesake, Grzegorzek is showing us a story about a relationship rather than one about either particular person. Mania is human and is presented as such. Though it is, of course, unfair and unfortunate that infidelity is a common theme across marriages, this film is conducive to the idea that it is not always one-sided.
Despite the fact that you don’t really want to have brunch with either character, Grzegorzek provides many warm, private moments in their relationship that make both people very tangible to the audience, and the execution by the two actors reciprocates that. What makes the turn of events especially disappointing, however, is how young their marriage is. These jointures are often considered idealistic and enthusiastic. “Honeymoon phase” is certainly an applicable label here. And it seems that Kamper and Mania realize that, which is why they stay together even after they are aware of each other’s affairs. Dripping with immorality, Mania says, “You have your Spanish; I have my cooking,” which are the adorable euphemisms (sarcasm) she has given to the Spanish teacher and cooking teacher they are respectively sleeping with. It is an odd and unsettling attitude to have in a marriage, and it is only after Kamper confronts all of his shortcomings that he can decide whether to linger or to move forward.
This film grants its viewers a pleasantly slow-paced depiction of very convincing fictional relationships and includes authentic performances from supporting cast, Sheily Jimenez (the Spanish teacher) and Justyna Suwala (the co-worker friend). Grzegorzek and co-writer Krzysztof Uminski’s dialogue is smart and funny and sad and this was apparent in spite of my rather exclusive reliance on subtitles. Luckily, the film incorporates a language we all understand in the form of a cathartic, lopsided dance routine, which, if nothing else, allows Kamper to feel like a kid again. Or…still.