Review: Zulawski's COSMOS Is A Wordy Madcap Comedy That Tries To Make Sense Of It All
Andrzej Zulawski lost his battle with cancer last week, adding his name to mounting number of cultural icons who passed away this year. His death came as a shock especially to New York cinephiles, who's been waiting patiently for the chance of seeing Cosmos, his new film in 15 years, ever since it made a world premiere at Locarno Film Fest last year.
When the good folks at Film Society of Lincoln Center announced the roster for this year's Film Comment Selects series, I was overjoyed that Zulawski's new film was included. Incidentally, they also added A Spotlight on Zulawski, a mini-retro consists of his digitally restored Polish films, including the seldom seen Sci-fi epic, On The Silver Globe.
The good news is that Kino Lorber has acquired the film and will be distributing it this summer in North America. The Bad news is, Cosmos is not quite the (last) film you expected from Zulawski; the master of emotional paroxysms. Rather, it's filled to the brim with non-stop psychobabbles and many intrigues that don't deliver on an emotional level. Its non-sensical wordplay is reminiscent of his My Nights are More Beautiful than Your Days, sans all the sex scenes. And it plays out like a chamber comedies of later period Alain Resnais.
Failed law school student Witold (Jonathan Genet) and his aggressively anti-intellectual friend Fuchs (Johan Libéreau) are on vacation on a picturesque rural town by the sea. They end up in a quaint bed and breakfast run by an eccentric couple, Léon (manic Jean-François Balmer) & Mme. Woytis (Resnais regular/wife Sabine Azéma) and joined by their newly married daughter Lena (stunning Victória Guerra) and housemaid with a grotesquely deformed harelip, Catherette (Clémentine Pons).
Witold is highly intrigued and aroused by flirtatious Lena and innocent Catherette in different ways. Lena is married to a handsome, but moody architect Lucien (Andy Gillet) and they seem to be very much in love. But there seems to be signs everywhere that suggest Lena is somehow coming on to Witold. Is it all in his mind or does everything in life have some sort of meaning and that everything is connected and that there is some kind of order in this seemingly chaotic world?
After finding a dead sparrow hanging from a wire on a blue string, Witold is obsessed by the imagery. Who put it there? What does it mean? In his mind, the only way to find out is to counter signal it with a larger animal.
Cosmos operates in its own baffling, internal logic. From what I hear, the film is quite faithful to its source material - a beloved cult novel by Polish author Witold Grombrowicz.
Léon, whose verbal acrobatics provide much humor in the film, seems at first a foolish old man, but turns out to be Prospero-like character, providing film's many philosophical musings. Mme. Woytis has a tendency to freeze in mid-sentence while excited. Veteran actors, Balmer and Azema seem to be having a lot of fun with their over-the-top characters.
Raven haired Guerra's bewildering beauty promises yet another tempestuous Zulawskian heroine but alas, she remains an object of desire and mystery from afar. Clémentine Pons adds another layer in this complex film playing dual roles, as I try to decipher and digest this intricate, Mulholland Dr. level puzzle piece. I'm not even gonna attempt to unravel what Tolo the country priest (Ricardo Pereira) and the swarm of bees in his pants is about.
Cosmos may lack Zulawski's manic energy and sexual/psychological frankness of his earlier films. But it's any less enigmatic. The fact that he chose Grombrowicz's supposedly unfilmable novel to be his next project after 15 years of absence shows his maverick spirit as an uncompromising artist up until the last moment of his life. RIP Zulawski.
Zulawski won the Best Director award at Locarno for Cosmos. Kino Lorber is the film's North American distributor. It will be in theaters in summer 2016. Please visit FSLC website for showtimes and more info.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com