United States of Love – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Tomasz Wasilewski
Writer: Tomasz Wasilewski
Stars: Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak
It is 1990. The Berlin Wall has just fallen. The Soviet Union is disintegrating. Poland as one of the countries behind the Iron Curtain is on the cusp of change. In this unsettled environment, Wasilewski has chosen to tell the stories of four women. The action takes place in a collection of unforgiving buildings which constitute apartment blocks, schools, swimming baths and changing rooms. All are utilitarian and functional. This monotony is amplified by the film being shot in black and white primarily. Occasionally some colour is permitted in relation to a dress but even then it is as if the colour has been washed out.
The action jumps from each of the heroines stories to another. It is not that easy to follow. They are a mixed bunch: a young married woman in love secretly with a fine looking young priest; a well-groomed, elegant schoolteacher who is secretly engaged to a married man who seems to lose interest in her after the death of his wife; a pensioner, recently retired, who finds solace with her caged birds which she allows to fly freely around her cramped apartment. She has a fixation with another lonely woman, who lives across from her apartment, whose husband has found work in West Germany.
Some of the women are involved in a fair amount of somewhat mechanical exchanges of bodily fluids, amidst strong pelvic thrusts, with various specimens of the male species. However notwithstanding its mention in the title, “love” is not apparent. Rather these couplings are singularly loveless. Wasilewski does not attempt to sugar his vision. For instance there are shots in a changing room of naked women of mature age, advancing on vintage, each seen unvarnished with sagging folds of tired flesh all revealed in the unflattering light. The nerviness of the participants is exemplified by the voluminous amount of smoking.
In its defence, the acting of the four women is impressive as is also the framing of very many scenes. However even though the film only lasts one hundred and four minutes so much of it is gloomy that there is a great sense of relief when it is over. Wasilewski sets out to tell four unlovely stories; the resulting film, notwithstanding its actors, is bleak.