Here is the new film from cult Polish director Andrzej Żuławski, which sadly will also be his last. His many fans have had to wait 15 years for the curious riddle that is Cosmos – his previous effort was Fidelity, in 2000 – and I’m sure many will find much to like in it.
The plot, in as much as there is one, is based on the novel Kosmos by Witold Gombrowicz, and concerns two young men, Witold (Jonathan Genet) and Fuchs (Johan Libéreau), who take a vacation in a country house in order to temporarily get away from their lives, and where they soon begin to notice some alarming oddities. The film begins with Witold discovering the corpse of a sparrow strung up from a pipe, which is a thing he cannot fully grasp. Who would do such a thing, and why? And how does it relate to the events in the house?
Witold becomes obsessed with the idea of how everything relates to everything else, driven to distraction by the possibility that the answer may simply be that it’s all random. He’s recently failed a law exam and disappointed his father, and is attempting to pen a novel about his experiences, which becomes increasingly tied to the heightened reactions he has on his vacation. Witold and Fuchs share some amusing dialogue – in which Witold tries to explain literature to Fuchs, who resolutely isn’t interested – while the proprietors of the house in which they’re staying (Sabine Azéma and Jean François-Balmer) indulge in their own bizarre, hysterical routines. The rest of the occupants of the house drift in and out, and include Clémentine Pons as a maid with a disfigured upper lip and Victória Guerra as Lena, both of whom inspire a sort of madness in Witold. At times this is driven by repressed sexual urges, but at others seems to come from his inability to fully comprehend anything he’s experiencing.
As an audience, we are sucked into Witold’s increasing instability by Zulawski’s determination to keep the film’s ideas at arm’s length. This is a film to be appreciated for its tone and performance, rather than a strict plot or narrative arcs. I have to say that I often found the film’s quirks frustrating, and that at times I felt it indulged in anarchism without a great deal of result. I appreciated its madness (and indeed the intensity of Genet’s unhinged central performance), but at others felt I was being held at a distance by its unusual visual and dialogue choices.
While, as a whole, the film did not entirely work for me, there were elements to enjoy: in particular a sequence in some woods in the final act, in which the visuals and music came together with the purposefully eccentric script to produce some memorable moments; and some of Zulawski’s interesti ng camera work and visuals. There are ideas aplenty in Cosmos, many of which are compelling, but there is a lack of insight or resolution to most of it that feels frustrating.