Cosmos December 27, 2016
In 1981’s Possession, auteur Andrzej Żulawski’s best and most famous feature, we find an ethereally beautiful young woman (Isabelle Adjani) in the throes of a painful divorce brought on by her infidelity. Tormented and emotionally incoherent, Adjani’s anti-heroine isn’t just a cheater wanting out of an unhappy union — she’s also a fixture of ever-mounting insanity only capable of expressing herself through violent outbursts and carnal rendezvouses with a being better not to be discussed. So aggressive and so uncontrollably physical, Possession is not a supernatural horror picture but an untamed, unwaveringly unsettling manifestation of the divorce movie. Though it feels like one, Żulawski’s means so frenetic we’d perhaps go as insane as Adjani’s unfaithful wife if too-long exposed to its barbaric frames.
This year’s Cosmos, Żulawski’s comeback after a fifteen-year artistic absence, is as unstable and unspeakably horrific as his still disturbing Possession but lacks the compulsive absorption that peppered the latter’s atmosphere. At one point in the film does its protagonist of sorts try to stop his erotic obsession by deciding that his unreachable love interest is actually “just a face, a mask,” a void with nothing peaking out. But, all stabs at commentary aside (with that one being notably directed toward society’s everlasting preoccupation with female beauty), Cosmos is just style without depth, too; it’s furious anarchy (a lucid nightmare, really) more screwball comedy that horror, more skin deep mania than moving characterization of hell on Earth.
Consider the way its storyline invites not slow burn baiting tempestuousness but Luis Buñuel ready satire — it seems fit to welcome in a grand comedy of manners, not a psychological horror show. In Cosmos we follow friends Witold (Jonathan Genet) and Fuchs (Johan Libéreau) as they book a room at a rural guesthouse on the French countryside, in which dead birds greet customers just as they set foot into the building and in which the erratic Madame Woytis (Sabine Azéma) overlooks the building with her daughter, the unpredictable Lena (Victória Guerra). With Witold having recently failed the bar exam and with Fuchs having quit his fashion job, both are in need of temporary separation from a stressful reality — to bask in the glory that is retrospection might get them back on track to becoming the men they set out to be in their younger years.
For Fuchs, the trip is mostly beneficial — the place delights him — but for Witold, the house beckons psychosis, his demons eventually washing over him so greatly that the infatuation he develops toward Lena slowly but surely points him in the direction of self-harm, emotional eruption, and even murder.
But with neither his madness nor his sexual fascination never much convincing us, little about Cosmos is sustainably investing. Its staccatoed, lightning-quick dialogue urgent to the point of raising suspicions that severely ugly truths are waiting to be uncovered, its characters radically unhinged, the film suffers from unbearable muchness. Initially is its madcap energy addictively primal. But after its cerebral messages prove either to be inaccessible or vacuously explored, it metamorphoses into the cinematic equivalent of a human guinea pig suffering the placebo effects of a study centered around hallucinogens — it’s feverish fuckery desperate to ruffle us up. But we stop caring the minute hopes of juicy revelation spillage are dashed.
Its themes more interestingly explored by the wonderful Possession, Cosmos is admirable in its artistry and its performative components (the actors are awe-inspiringly committed) but never looks like anything more than Żulawski-lite. And now that cancer’s turned the film into his swan song, we’re only left wanting more. C