United States of Love

 

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A film of Poland in 1990 that lets the time and place seep into your bones.

 

United States of Love

  

When it appeared here in 2013, Floating Skyscrapers, the second feature by the Polish writer/director Tomasz Wasilewski, was well regarded by some but, although I admired the look of it, I found it difficult to feel involved with the characters whose motivations often appeared uncertain. Given my attitude then, I have to acclaim his third feature, United States of Love, as a huge step forward. It is still a relatively minimalistic work but less so than its predecessor and, with the expert Oleg Muti as photographer, it retains the visual distinction. Here Wasilewski is making a comment on the new freedoms which came to Poland around 1990 and the big development lies in the fact that he has done this in a way that finds style and content merged as one.

 

United States of Love centres on four women who are known to each other. Indeed, the headmistress Iza (Magdalena Cielecka) is the sister of the married Marzena (Marta Nieradkiewicz) who was once a local beauty queen and who, with her husband now away in Germany, is hoping to become a model. Then there's an older teacher, Renata (Dorota Kolak), who is a neighbour of Marazena's but is leading a desperately lonely life, and finally there's Agata (Julia Kijowska), an unsettled wife and mother at whose house we first encounter the others. Initially it can be slightly confusing to identify each of them and the film tells its four stories by dovetailing them while yet putting the main emphasis on each woman in turn.

 

What comes across in a film that is deeply despairing in tone is that Wasilewski is portraying the new and   wider sexual freedoms as symbolic of the political freedoms that seemed to promise so much in 1990 and then going on to show that they do not lead to happiness. His treatment of sex is matter of fact, as is his take on nudity whether or not in a sexual context, but all of this feeds into his thesis and, as we follow each woman into an uneasy and unclear future, the camera moves only when they do. This often involves placing the backs of their heads in the centre of the 'Scope screen thus inviting identification with these women through this emphatic focus but also symbolising the blank uncertainty of where their steps are taking them. The viewpoint may be too bleak for some, but throughout this very well acted film there is a sense of a filmmaker expressing exactly what he wants to convey through a carefully judged use of the medium of cinema.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Tomek Tyndyk, Andrzej Chyra, Lukasz Simlat, Marcin Czarnik, Jedrzej Wielecki, Julia Chetnicka, Malgorzata Majerska, Igor Bejnarowicz, Zuzanna Bernat.


Dir Tomasz Wasilewski, Pro Piotr Kobus and Agnieszka Drewno, Screenplay Tomasz Wasilewski, Ph Oleg Mutu, Pro Des Katarzyna Sobanska and Marcel Slawinski, Ed Beata Walentowska, Costumes Monika Kaleta.


Manana/Telewizja Polska S.A/Common Ground Pictures/Film Väst/Polski Instytut/Sztuki Filmowej-Matchbox.
106 mins. Poland/Sweden. 2016. Rel: 18 November 2016. Cert. 18
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