FNE at Berlinale 2016: United States of Love

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United States of Love directed by Tomasz Wasilewski United States of Love directed by Tomasz Wasilewski

BERLIN: Polish director Tomasz Wasilewski arrives in Berlin with his Polish Swedish coproduction United States of Love and while early 1990s Poland might have been a rather chaste and Catholic place to the eyes of the outside world there is certainly no shortage of nudity and graphic sexual encounters.

This is Wasilewski’s third feature film and festival audiences will remember him from his earlier hit Floating Skyscrapers.  The story is set against the crumbling of the Soviet Union and portrays the gray and grim physical reality of daily life in Poland after years of stagnation  while at the same time events like the end of the Berlin Wall, the Slidarność movement and the overthrow of  Romanian dictator Ceaușescu swirl about the Poles and occupy their TV screens in the incredibly rapid and profound changes that are sweeping through the country.

Small changes have begun to creep into private Polish life with aerobics and porn videos showing up even in the suburbs of ordinary working people.  Against this backdrop we see the lives of four women with loosely connected stories whose sexual lives struggle with desperation, frustration and obsession that unite their lives in acts that have no connection of live.

The four women live in gray Soviet blocks in what might be a provincial town or out-lying suburbs or a larger one.  Agata played by Julia Kijowska is attracted to a good looking young Catholic priest and secretly observes him which leaves her satisfying her sexual lust for the priest with her uncomprehending husband in what is obviously an unfulfilling marriage. Iza played by Magdalena Cielecka is an elegant school headmistress who at first seems to have her act together and to be coolly in control.  She is having an affair with a married doctor who when he is widowed she is surprised to find he is not ready to satisfy her demands for legitimising their relationship now that he is free.  Instead he terminates the relationship leaving her frustrated and committing increasingly more desperate and extreme acts as she tries to win him back.

Renata played by Dorota Kolak is a Russian language teacher who finds herself redundant when Russian is replaced by English in Polish schools. An emotionally needy and lonely older woman she pours her emotions into her teaching and finds herself desperate when she is ousted from her job. In a story with clear Lesbian overtones she lures her attractive young neighbour Marzena played by Marta Nieradkiewicz to her bird-filled apartment by pretending to have had an accident.

Marzena a beautiful young sports teacher dreams of being a model now that the door to the West has opened up.  But she naively is preyed upon by a sleazy photographer who take sexual advantage of her when she has passed out drunk and she wakes to feel dirty and disgusted with herself and her now damaged modelling dream.

There are many cringe-inducing sexual scenes but no love to be found the experiences of these four unhappy women.  Wasilewski draws accomplished and convincing performances from all four women although special mention has to go to a brave and complex performance from Dorota Kolak.

Wasilewski is supported in building his convincing environment by the work of distinguished Romanian DoP Oleg Mutu.

The unrelenting emotional grimness of this film means its commercial distribution potential is limited but its unrelenting look at frustration and loneliness achieving a level of truth should mean it becomes a fixture on the festival circuit.

United States of Love (Poland, Sweden)
Directed by Tomasz Wasilewski
Cast: Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Łukasz Simlat
Produced by Manana and VP SA, Film i Väst and Common Ground Pictures
Supported by Polish Film Institute
Sales New Europe Film Sales www.neweuropefilmsales.com