Glacial and distant in both aesthetic and thematic design, Polish auteur Tomasz Wasilewski expertly channels the ambient undercurrents of European character cinema with United States of Love. This frosty and strikingly unconventional work proves the young filmmaker as not only one of the most exciting newfound talents, but a remarkably knowledgable scholar.
Textures of Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl thrive in the sparse emptiness of his frame, and the stoic sadness of his protagonists. Luxurious long takes and intricate framing are paired with a drab grey colour palette; ensuring each ouch of technical beauty is weighted with melancholy and despair. Whilst United States of Love is far from a pleasant watch – in fact, it has a sobering and hollow energy that has the potency to drain hue just like the sets – it is an undoubtedly impressive one; quietly brilliant, achingly sad.
Wasilewski’s screenplay details four Polish women circa 1990, whose lives are all consumed by toxicity and thwarted obsession. Together they are bound by a compulsive need for erotic stimulation, yet their sex is entirely joyless and without compassion. Interesting then, that despite the narrative’s brutally candid, and largely depressing, approach to love and pleasure, the young Poles’ film is compassionate; a measured, textured portrait of the many scars which cloak, hidden in plain sight.
Cinematographer Oleg Mutu – the craftsman behind Cristian Mungiu’s exceptional 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days and Beyond the Hills – achieves not only the alarmingly sparse colours and tones, but also spaces. Such domesticated areas play out with feverish drama, and indeed cinematic prowess. Dinner table exchanges are supercharged with courtroom intensity as Mutu enables his lens to really cradle atmosphere. He never strays from the moment or coordinates unnecessary action, rather letting the scene breathe and populate. This patient approach to form – much like Wasilewski’s patient approach to drama – will most certainly test the taste of some audiences. Sorrow and stillness paired with uncompromising imagery could be seen as too much of a bad thing, but in the horrors of mundanity lies the beauty of humanity.
United States of Love is a challenging and emotionally bruising watch – a film which renders a landscape lorn and lonely – but this import (distributed by Curzon in the United Kingdom) has a meticulous approach to cinematic structure and storytelling which is far more than admirable, rather remarkable. Wasilewski’s latest infects the mind and soul, and its plague is melodically bleak.
United States of Love is now available to watch on-demand via Curzon Home Cinema