Granted: at 75, Andrzej Żuławski has energy to spare and a mischievous glint in his eye. In his first film in 15 years, he pretty much barrels through all obstacles in a manner more becoming a filmmaker many years his junior. And in adapting Witold Gombrowicz's epoch-defining novel Cosmos, he seems to renew with the edgy, Bohemian grotesques of the 1960s East European film satirists and boundary-pushers (Polish countrymen like Roman Polanski or Jerzy Skolimowski, next-door Czechs Milos Forman or Vera Chytilova). Only now he's doing it in colour and in Portugal (production constraints oblige), while updating the satire of opera-buffa bourgeoisie to include the modern selfie culture of five seconds of fame.
All very well, but that still doesn't answer the question: does Cosmos tell us anything about Mr. Żuławski-the-filmmaker that we didn't know already? No prizes for guessing "not really". In its non-stop, almost nausea-inducing roaming camera, non-sequitur dialogue and almost non-existent semblance of plot (replaced by mood, strangeness, nonsense), Cosmos becomes a test of endurance, a tiresome see-saw between an aspiration to truth and beauty ripped out from a wallowing self-indulgence, full of punning whimsy meant as knowing winks to those who have followed the director's career.
Closer to the baroque excesses of the director's mid-eighties films than to the deep dives of career highs L'important c'est d'aimer and Possession, the new film seems to revel in its own absurdities and contradictions, perfectly defined by a line thrown away at one point - "the savage power of the weak thought". Żuławski calls out "Spielbleurgh, Bleurghman or Bleurghson" (as in respectively Steven, Ingmar and Henri) but that iconoclastic attitude is provocative for its own sake, as the film seems to offer itself as a hollow, nihilistic tour de force - a flashy explosion of cinematic fireworks that ends up amounting to nothing other than proof of life.
France, Portugal, 2015, 102 minutes
Starring Sabine Azéma, Jean-François Balmer, Jonathan Genêt, Johan Libéreau, Victória Guerra, Clémentine Pons, Andy Gillet, Ricardo Pereira, António Simão
Directed and written by Andrzej Żuławski; based on the novel Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz; cinematography André Szankowski (colour); music by Andrzej Korzyński; art director Paula Szabo; costume designer Patricia Saalburg; film editor Julia Gregory; produced by Paulo Branco, for Alfama Films Productions and Leopardo Filmes
Screened August 7th 2015, Teatro Kursaal, Locarno
COSMOS un film de Andrzej Zulawski (bande-annonce) from Leopardo Filmes on Vimeo.