The Man with a Movie Camera By Gyorgy Baron

in 29th Cairo International Film Festival

by György Báron

For Kujtim Çashku, who is one of the best known Albanian directors, the Magic Eye is the camera. His film Magic Eye is a crime story, a political thriller and contemplation about the responsibility of those who are making pictures.

At the beginning of the film, a tragedy happens in Gjirokaster, a small town in Southern Albania, in 1997, during the bloodshed of the civil war: an old man accidentally shoots his grandchild and then kills himself. Two different films are shot about the act of the shooting: one by a professional TV-crew, the other by a retired photographer, Petro, from his window with his Super 8 mm camera. The first one appears in the newsreels throughout the world: the edited pictures and the commentary show the public how an old man becomes mad in the horror of the war and kills his own grand-daughter. However, the 8 mm reels that Petro recorded from his apartment are a testimony as to what had really happened in the silent, abandoned street: that in fact the reporter gave the gun to the old man wanting to make a picture about him, but the frightened grandpa, who was constantly protesting against the filming shot the girl by accident, then (what we didn’t see in the news) committed suicide.

Petro leaves for the capital of Tirana to develop the negative and present it to the public. It’s a dangerous adventure in a country, where gangs of masked gunmen rule the roads. On his way, Petro meets the cameraman who filmed the tragedy for television: Beri and his girlfriend are also on the run from bandits, who had seriously beaten the man when he tried to film them, too. They continue their strange journey together, while Beri doesn’t know that the old man manages to escape from the gunmen hired by his TV-station. During the trip a nice and warm connection develops between Beri’s girlfriend and the old photographer. The beautiful young girl reminds Petro about his old lover in Paris, who later became a famous actress. Arriving in Tirana, the girl and Petro watch together the old, rainy photographs of the Paris-days and a two-minute masterpiece that Petro shot about his lover (she and Beri’s girlfriend are played by the same actress), in the style of the French cinema of the late fifties.

The connection between the young girl and the sixty-year-old bearded-faced photographer is not only a repetition of an old love-story, but also refers to the tragedy we saw on the first takes. Kujtim Çashku, virtuously balances on the sharp edge between a political thriller and a poetic, cinematic essay on time and memories. For his hero, Petro, the latter is more important: photography and film that halt the passing of time. But he has to face the responsibility of “the man with a movie-camera”: film can also be evidence, testifying the truth when others are trying to manipulate it, abusing the pictures for their own purposes. Therefore, Magic Eye is a very personal movie, a passionate confession about cinema.

The excellent cinematographers, Hajo Schomeros and Spartak Papadimithri, are using mostly handy cam, which makes their style vivid and flexible, similar to the style of newsreels and home-movies. In the role of Petro, Bujar Lako is magnificent: his past is written on his sharp-featured, strongly marked face, similar to the old photographs that preserve time.