‘Til Madness Do Us Part: Cosmos

Cosmos_Victória Guerra (l), Jonathan_Genet (r)

Directed by Andrzej Žuławski
Opens June 17 at the Metrograph

The title promises the universe. And even though the final film by the late Andrzej Žuławski restricts itself to our terrestrial sphere, it at the very least feels, like so much of the inimitable Polish director’s work, as if it was beamed in from another galaxy.

Stateside, Žuławski is probably best known for putting Isabelle Adjani through some self-induced-aborting/Carlo-Rambaldi-creature-fucking escapades in 1981’s batshit adultery drama Possession. That film’s dizzying hysteria (imagine the Spinal Tap amp’s “11” setting as a tonal baseline) is a Žuławski constant. His movies tend to begin at fever pitch and never let up. Cosmos is no exception, opening with Jonathan Genet’s failed law student Witold (as in the novel on which the film is based, the character is named after author Witold Gombrowicz) charging through the streets on his way to a country guest house run by the flame-haired Madame Woytis (Sabine Azéma).

Ostensibly, he’s there to relax. But an ill omen—a dead sparrow hanging in the nearby woods—hints at the many strange agitations to come. The fellow boarders are an odd bunch, like Fuchs (Johan Libéreau), a Parisian fashion maven who goes out most nights and returns with bruises that are never explained. Or the maid (Clémentine Pons) with a hideously deformed lip and, perhaps, a non-facially-scarred doppelganger.

At one point, Madame Woytis gets to make like Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, maniacally slashing an axe in what seems like a trance state. (She also occasionally freezes in place whenever she flies into too much of a rage; no surprise that the other characters treat it as completely normal.) All this is to say nothing of the slugs and other vermin that infest the guest house food, or the way that dangling sparrow finds subsequent corollaries in everything from a piece of wood to an unfortunate homo sapien. Oh, and there’s a priest who unzips his pants and unleashes a swarm of bees.

What does it all mean? Wrong question. And it’s probably absurd to even ask. Better, instead, to fully submit to Žuławski’s last symphony of insanity and paranoia, which ends, cheekily enough, with a gag reel (quite the meta final statement). His movies allow you some blissful madness in a world brainwashed by sanity.


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