A few months back I professed my love for odd movies that operate in the realm of either you like it or you hate it with two notable releases in this category, Swiss Army Man and The Neon Demon. Both films spoke to that weird part of my movie psyche and the artfulness of each of them should have been a clear indicator that I would really enjoy Cosmos, the new and final film from Polish director Andrzej Zulawski, who passed away earlier this year. I have to say this was not the case because by the time the credits finally rolled at the end of this feature I couldn’t turn my computer off fast enough to distance myself from the film I had just wasted an hour and a half. The beautifully metaphorical work in this world and there’s also the mad existential metaphors of a rambling lunatic. For all the gorgeous shots that populate this film, this film almost entirely finds itself in the latter category.
I must admit that Cosmos is the only film I have ever seen by Andrzej Zulawski, a director known for making mostly European art-house movies. Mentored by director Andrzej Wajda as his assistant, Zulawski learned what he could from the Palme d’Or winner and prominent member of the “Polish film school”. After only Zulawski’s second feature film, he found his work banned in his home country, prompting him to move to France. He would return to try and make another film that the Polish government would stop him from making, causing him to go right back to France. With the rebellious nature and the need to create things outside of the box, Zulawski is a director I should really love but I can’t get over the hurdle of understanding his final message to the film world in Cosmos.
The film follows two friends, Witold and Fuchs, who have just arrived at a countryside guesthouse, looking for a little break from reality. Witold has just flunked a major exam in law school and is looking to develop the thriller story he has been developing. Fuchs is also in a state of existential renewal as he has just walked away from his job at a Parisian fashion company. Together, the two start of the trip a bit weirdly after Witold discovers a sparrow hanging from a noose outside the house. Taking the discovery as a bad omen, the friends try to channel their attentions to other areas, Fuchs on the maid Catherette who has a birth defect around her mouth and Witold getting a little obsessive about Lena, the newly wed daughter of the family running the house.
This is where the explainable plot sort of ends and we descend into a maddening incoherence of avant-garde filmmaking. Witold’s fixation on Lena goes from hypothetical to an almost love-hate rage that sends him back to his room consistently to furiously continue his story on his laptop. Fuchs, a flamboyant gay man, goes out during the nights and returns from cruising with cuts and bruises on his face and body. While all this is taking place, the host family is slowly descending into a sort of heightened and completely manic delirium that all leads to a kind of crashing crescendo that made no sense of anything before it and really seemed all for naught.
The only thing that worked for me in Cosmos was the cinematography that was enough to spur me on until the end. The work from Brazilian director of photography André Szankowski gives you enough eye candy to keep me on board. A couple of the scenes with Lena being shot in a close up with red lipstick are probably my greatest take away from Cosmos but in the end seemed as loosely and lightly connected that it all failed to have any weight to it. I thought back to how much I disliked Terrence Malick’s Knight Of Cups but felt attached to its cinematography as well. Cosmos made that one look much better in comparison.
Part of me feels a little harsh for disliking this late film director’s work with such a passion but I really had nothing to hang on to when I finished my viewing. For all the pontificating that most of the characters give throughout the film all of them felt like they were overdone characters with their biggest nuances. The only seemingly sane character is Madame Woytis, the matriarch of the house, and this is only because she possesses the majority of the moments of clarity which is really in short supply as it is. The film feels completely overdone and, without having a large understanding of Zulawski’s work, maybe a bit self-serving.
A small part of my is bugged that I didn’t see in this art house film what many other critics have been lauding. The reception, at least on the bigger review sites, has been pretty positive, averaging a high review per person but I just didn’t see what the fuss was about. To me, the film was devoid of any narrative awareness and instead had a loose attitude that was masquerading as a boundary-pushing piece of cinema. To me, it was just hollow and nauseating. I give Cosmos a low one out of five.