After the festival success of 2013s Floating Skyscrapers, Tomasz Wasilewski returns with UNITED STATES OF LOVE; which had its world premiere at the 66th Berlinalé. Mining similar themes that include a pessimistic representation of emotional entrapment and the effects of such situations.
The film opens in Poland, 1990. The huge changes are brewing and percolating. The first euphoric year of freedom, but hovering is the idea of the unknown. An attempt to create a state of the nation micro epic, Wasilewski focuses on four women of different ages who ponder the central premise of existential action to please themselves. Agata is a young mother, trapped in an unhappy marriage, who seeks refuge in another, impossible relationship with a young priest. Renata is an older teacher fascinated with her neighbor Marzena – a lonely former local beauty queen, whose husband works in Germany. Marzena’s sister Iza is a headmistress in love with the father of one of her students.
The four stories overlap and intersect at various points but none strikes an emotionally fulfilling enterprise. The film seems a collection of much mocked eastern European art house tropes which we have seen before and been better handled by superior filmmakers. Expertly shot (by ace Romanian DoP Oleg Mutu) and with very strong performances by the four central actresses, you are very much left with the idea that the film is not the sum of its parts.
It is obvious that Wasilewski is attempting to move the big table of Polish art house greats but one comes away thinking that all he has been successful in is strip mining visual iconography and thematic questions and answers of a specific time and place. In all the qualities the film presents the female perspective is the most startling and welcome but again one feels that these female characters are laid naked (both metaphorically and literally) but ultimately for cynical and self-serving reasons.
In the role of Renata (expertly played by Dorota Kolak) we are faced with the one time in the film that Wasilewski gets to a point that passes his rigid distancing devices but typically he manages to drop the ball with an act of doubling that he probably thinks is a coup de cinema but only comes across as yet another international art trope that he hasn’t deserved to present.
UNITED STATES OF LOVE is not a lost cause and for that matter neither is the director. There is plenty here to interest; whether that be an all-encompassing melancholia or the stellar female performances. In retrospect he needs to lose the affluence of influence and head for pastures new that will enhance his obvious talents.