Satire drama that tell us the universal story that all rules are made by the laziest and most stupid leader and any academic or student trying to question it is either sent off in jail or ridiculed so the best way is to be a cynic who knows the truth but decide not to do anything about it in order to survive as "you turn a blind eye to people's true nature".
It's a bit easy to characterize this as a battle of idealism against cynicism. Cynicism has less to do with the age of the person, and more about a kind of moral laziness. It's more about manipulation. I saw this movie as a battle between the older man trying to use the younger man as a pawn in his games.
You will have the upper hand if you speak Polish. The subs are good, but can't keep up with all the dialogue in some of the larger group scenes. This is primarily a social and political critique of Poland as it was (and, I'd argue, is). I think it also subtly points to gender issues in the way all the women in the plot are excluded by the men in charge and reduced to their looks - in a very knowing way.
While watching it, I was hoping that halfway through I'd be able to understand and be persuased by the tension that obviously runs underneath, but it didn't come through. But when I think about it, after the film, I appreciate it more. Zanussi's dialogue, as always, can be gold. And that intense end.
At first I was a bit distracted by the particulars of time and place but on second viewing the universality of the piece and its relevance to the political and philosophical struggles of today totally grabbed me. Idealism and pragmatism struggle in the shadow of implacable bureaucratic structures. Since I was 26 when the film was made I can see in it my own personal migration between the principle points of view.
Writer-director Krzysztof Zanussi uses tensions and relationships in a university camp to explore issues with Poland in the 1970s, including the clash between generations and widely differing viewpoints on politics and how power can be used best. Not always an easy film to be appreciate, patient viewers who know more about the context and content will take a lot away from this.
Quite verbose, and shot almost utilitarianially. But really worked out characters, and it's almost like the older professor and Zanussi together are cooking up things for the younger 'idealist' prof. In that sense, reminded me of funny games, where the director is part of the 'plotting as well'... the cynical guy, in the end does seem to have an upper hand over the idealist, moralist, smugness of the young prof.
What at first struck me as being a kind of comic Trotskyite nightmare of overlapping voices and contention unto naught very quickly began to strike me, despite the obviously unique particulars of time and place, as something much more universal and perhaps even timely. CAMOUFLAGE could almost be repurposed to take place at contemporary Berkley. Cynicism may be sanity in the face microfactionalist dissonance.
After all, people do have the potential for deeper feelings. Animals too for that matter. They often defend their young, the weak, the small. They can be faithful, monogamous, altruistic. But there the analogy ends. Human groups build value systems which make sense as long as they enable survival.
Excellent Zanussi specimen. Maybe not so cinematic as other films but definitely compelling in the dissection of value-wars and cultural lags between students-faculty and across the latter. Acted with conviction it discloses the camouflage of materialism in idealism and vice versa. The dramatic 'reconciliation' must, as in all dialectics, involve struggle and the riveting finale conjures it with great force!
In comparison with Zanussi´s earlier "The structure of crystals", which offers some similarities (opposition of two scholars, love-hate relationship), the conclusion is bitter : you can not exactly tell who "wins" in the previous one but eight years later, it is clearly cynicism that dominates in Poland. Visually, it is Zanussi´s less captivating work. The way the main character gets broken is interesting though.