Wednesday, August 3, 2016
MIFF Session #6: COSMOS
Young straight aesthete Witold tries to study law but is constantly diverted by his own literary experience, seeing the essence of the books he's loved at every turn. The first lines of the film are him quoting Dante and the other event that changes him is meeting his Beatrice at dinner. The host family's daughter Lena is married to the beautiful but bland Lucien but the shuddering handshake between Lena and Witold foretells a new direction for her.
At the dinner table we also meet the Mme Woytis who gets so excited that she freezes into a kind of narcolepsy. Her husband Leon whose bizarre mispronunciations can create wildly off topic discussions of their own. Catherette, the maid with a unnerving harelip which is actually an injury from a car accident. And, following on from the opening sequence in which Witold comes across a hanged sparrow in the woods, a series of strange atrocities appear in and around the house leading to a kind of clue trail for an off planet whodunnit. Where will they lead? This question will be answered and it will make a kind of sense but if it is narrative regulation you are after you have walked into the wrong screening.
Andrzej Zulawski, emigre from a Soviet era Poland, has always been his own filmmaker. When Tarkovsky declared that the two types of director were those who showed us the world we know and those like himself and Robert Bresson who invented their own. Zulawski has always been of the latter school showing us stories of human error and deep moral debt by means of a form of reality that only makes sense within itself but works for the adventurous viewer who will enter. You might not be able to describe confidently what you have seen after Possession, The Third Part of the Night or The Devil, but you will have been affected by them and will remain so long after the thunder of the last action movie you saw.
This, as it happens, has become Zulawski's swansong. He died earlier this year but saw this, his first feature in fifteen years win the direction award at the 2015 Locarno Festival. Big deal? Well, it's not that his films weren't good enough for Cannes or the Oscars it's that they stood well outside of their bounds. By choice. For all the wilful obscurity and sudden absurdist turns throughout its one and three quarter hour screen time I wasn't bored for a second. More, I was almost constantly diverted by a film that I was not going to fully comprehend. That is the power of someone for whom the good taste of his peers might be fun at lunch but vanishes as it must when he calls, "action!"