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AFI’s EU Showcase ’16: United States of Love
who has seen Kieslowski’s Dekalog
understands there were eight million stories in the naked Polish Communist-era
housing complex. Naked is indeed an apt description, physically and emotionally
for these three women. Each are pining for unattainable objections of desire in
Tomasz Wasilewski’s United States of
which screens during the AFI’s 2016 EU Film Showcase.
is 1990. Communism has just fallen, but the architecture still sucks. Things
should be looking up, but love only brings torment and humiliation for these
women. Agata is married to Jacek, but she pines for the new, relatively young
priest recently assigned to their parish. It is making the business of their
daughter’s confirmation unnecessarily awkward and playing havoc with their
Iza is a secondary school principal, who assumes the death of her secret lover’s
wife means their affair will finally become legit. However, much to her surprise,
the doctor breaks off their relationship, using his daughter Wiola, a pupil, as
an excuse. Like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction,
she does not take his rejection lying down. In fact, matters get decidedly
the spare moments when Iza is not acting obsessively stalkerish, she
involuntarily retires Renata, a senior Russian teacher, who happens to be
carrying a torch for Agata’s younger sister Marzena. The former beauty pageant
contestant and aspiring fashion model happens to be married, but her husband is
way out of the picture in West Germany, where he has rather amazingly found
gainful employment. To get close to Marzena, Renata will resort to a number of
petty ruses, but nobody will win their heart’s desire, least of all the
three (or rather four) women’s stories are as grim as the concrete building
they live in. Technically, the Communist era is over, but everyone is still
clearly programmed to be distrustful, standoffish, and just generally wretched.
Of course, it is impossible to watch States
of Love without getting Dekalog flashbacks.
Wasilewski even incorporates one of its most depressing plot points (from Dekalog One). Yet, Kieslowski gave
viewers a wider range of emotions and occasionally maybe even a glimmer of
hope, whereas Wasilewski is unremittingly bleak.
the film is a showcase of bravely vulnerable and revealing performances from
all four central women. Wasilewski gives them no place to hide, putting their
characters through emotional wringers and often stripping them bare. Marta
Nierardkiewicz is probably the most heartrending as the too trusting Marzena,
while Magdalena Cielacka is the most chilling as Iza. Arguably, Dorota Kolak
gives the most fully dimensional performance as Renata. The men also deserve
credit for not allowing their characters become mere battle-of-the-sexes caricatures,
particularly Andrzej Chyra as the heart-sick, guilt-ridden doctor.
of Love was lensed by Romanian
master cinematographer Olg Mutu, who shot Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog and Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which
should cue viewers to expect a distinctive look and a depressing tone. It is a
serious work of film, but a somewhat unbalanced exercise in auteurist cruelty
towards Wasileski’s character creations. It is also a real downer. Recommended
for cineastes who enjoy wallowing in miserablism (they are out there), United States of Love screens this
Wednesday (12/14) and Saturday (12/17), as part of the AFI’s annual EU Film
Labels: AFI EU Showcase '16, Polish Films