Directed by Andrzej Zulawski.
Starring: Sabine Azéma, Jean-Francois Balmer, Jonathan Genet and Johan Libéreau.
Cosmos follows two young men who arrive at a family-run guesthouse in rural France. Their anticipation of a few days peace and quiet is undermined by a variety of sinister occurrences. Do all these signs comprise a portent of truly cosmic significance, or merely bizarre coincidences?
Fifteen years on from Andrzej Zulawski’s last film, Fidelity, comes Cosmos a thoroughly confounding and overtly dramatic feature spanning 1 hour 43 minutes total. A somewhat substandard last debut from one of Poland’s most proclaimed directors; Cosmos is a top contender for this year’s oddest and most peculiar film. True to the uncompromising style of Zulawski’s other works, Cosmos refuses to give into a more conventional style of film that was designed more for enjoyment and less to investigate, explore and to question.
Zulawski has always been infamous for his controversial avant-garde style of film that saw his second feature banned in Poland during its communist era. Evading the influences of mainstream cinema, Zulawski relied more on the symbolic and the conceptual, resisting the need to neatly tie off each conclusion. Cosmos is no exception. Despite being Zulawski’s last feature, before passing away at the age of 75 due to cancer, the director never reverted on his cinematic ideology. Since his death in February this year, Zulawski has been repeatedly quoted for stating that “I do not make a concession to viewers… these victims of life, who think that a film is made only for their enjoyment, and who know nothing about their own existence.” This statement has so rightly been asserted time and time again since his passing because it so clearly encapsulates both his life’s work and his cinematic ambitions.
Based on the novel of the same name by Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz, Zulawski seemed perfect for forming a film adaptation. The result, rather surprisingly combines the musings of Gombrowicz’s novel, which is represented well enough, with a new style of comedy that ultimately never fully synchronizes with the base text. However, the issue with Zulawski’s film could very well be the same reason for people defending its ‘brilliance.’ Attempting to relate as closely to Gombrowicz’s book as possible, Zulawski explores a great amount of disconnected unsettling moments that his protagonist, Witold, struggles to understand, attempting desperately to reveal an underline connection that explains the chaos he see’s spiralling around him. The idea of creating a film with the same theme of searching for order in chaos suits Zulawski’s style brilliantly, although with Cosmos we get an altogether different style.
Zulawski follows the same narrative of seemingly random absurdity also found in Gombroqicz’s literature, inverting the paint by numbers structure of dark comedy. Instead of using a sinister overtone that is elevated by off the cuff comedic moments, Zulawski utilises an upbeat soundtrack to provide a light hearted feeling that is cut up by disturbing instances that confuse rather than unsettle because they feel so out of place.
Although you could argue the un-summarizable plot and erratic performances are true to the themes found in Gombrowicz’s work, however, it’s translation to film is less understandable. The connections between each scene offer little substance to sustain an audience’s interest, at least throughout the first act of the film. The editing between shots also leaves little time for the viewers to understand the greater meaning behind the film, while the quality and framing of each shot only serve to funnel attention to what is immediately happening on-screen. To echo Zulawski’s protagonist quoting Tolstoy, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” Ultimately, despite the beauty of Cosmos, it fails to translate the theme’s found in Gombroqicz’s literature, pending the viewer hasn’t read Cosmos or learnt of its meaning beforehand.
As for each characters performance, there is little to critique. The quality of acting found within Cosmos is one of its most redeeming qualities. The characters portrayed are as visibly hysteric and dramatic as Zulawski’s characters in his 1972 feature, The Devil. Jonathan Genet’s (Les Chancelants, Vitalic: Fade Away) portrayal of Witold is perhaps too overbearing, however his eccentric mannerisms that explode on-screen in his fits of rage and confusion are thoroughly convincing. Furthermore, Victória Guerra’s (Sol de Inverno, Dancin’ Days) performance as Lena is executed so well she ultimately steals the spotlight. Leading to its cinematic conclusion, Guerra emphasises the altogether enthralling importance of the final act that draws all the characters together.
For those who possess a knowledge of both Zulawski and Gombroqicz, there is a lot to devour and analyse; something that should of pleased Andrzej Zulawski. Nevertheless, when you compare Cosmos to the directors other works, it just doesn’t hold up. The consistent sinister background of The Devil would have better suited this film, as would have the editing style used in Possession. But ultimately the decision to evade all notions of narrative structure fails to emphasise that it is actually meant to reflect the core themes of Cosmos’ base text.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★