Fifteen years after his previous film, Polish director Andrezj Zulawski, mostly known by his surreal horror Possession (1981), is back onscreen with what ended up being his final film. Cosmos, based on the homonymous surreal book by Witold Gombrowicz, is described as a metaphysical noir thriller by the filmmakers, and won Best Direction at the Locarno International Film Festival.
Witold (Jonathan Genet) just failed his law exam, and together with new acquaintance Fuchs (Johan Libéreau) – who is running away from his demanding job as a fashion designer assistant – he takes a room at a family bed & breakfast in the middle of rural Europe. Slowly, the strange omens around them (hanged birds, unsightly lips) together with the bizarreness of the host family and Witold’s inflamed passion for respectable newlywed Lena (Victoria Guerra) all start taking a toll on their not-so-idyllic getaway…
Taking into account Zulawski’s previous work, one goes into Cosmos waiting – and hoping – for a challenging cinematic experience, but alas, the last film of the Polish master fails to deliver to his usual standard. The film’s lack of narrative coherence is less Inland Empire and more amateur-feature-shot-over-a-boozy-weekend, which is an even greater shame when some of the material leaves a hint of the Repulsion level film it could have been. Alas, all is spoiled by the actors’ over the top histrionics and a script that, when not casually dropping big sounding names, is filled with silly, existentialist dialogue. Now, these parts by themselves never stopped a good film – after all, Zulawski’s work is filled with this kind of eccentric characters, and reflections on The Nature Of It All; but in this particular case, it is never greater than the sum of its parts, and together with the underwhelming cinematography by Andre Szankowski (who proved his quality in The Gilded Cage but came up short for this film) it just adds to a flavourless, pointless whimsical film which fails to capture the audience’s attention, despite all the craziness that seems to be going on.
Feeling like an obscure French Literature novel that some people claim is their favourite work, despite never having read it, Cosmos is not the final film that Zulawski deserved, and is in no way a good representation of the director’s previous work. Of course, if you are into the sexual tension derived from the synchronized caressing of cutlery, this may as well be right up your alley. But for the rest of us, Cosmos is more like a slug in your breakfast – you’re not sure what to make of it, and wonder how it got there; but in the end, no thank you, we’ll have a black coffee instead.
Cosmos will be in UK cinemas from 19th August 2016.