United States of Love is a deeply uncomfortable and troubling film. Arguably it’s deliberately designed to be so through apt framing that emphasises the voyeuristic nature of cinema; female characters are glimpsed through doorways, with their heads cut out of shots, and often from the prolonged vantage point of unmoving cameras. Unfortunately United States of Love is a one-trick pony with nothing else to add interest to the interminably dull narratives.
Wasilewski creates a crushingly bleak view of life in 1990s Poland and offers absolutely no levity. The runtime is even punctuated with a series of funerals, but rather than sympathy there’s only frank observation. The music and clothing of aerobics classes taught by Marzena (Marta Nieradkiewicz) are the only splashes of colour and energy in an unrelentingly grey, beige and brown palette and a largely silent soundscape. Subdued, almost drab set decoration is entirely appropriate to the world of the film, but it’s tedious and unengaging.
The cinematographic choices that at first seem like a quirky gimmick eventually emerge as distressingly exploitative. Unromanticised sex scenes in claustrophobic spaces bristle with subtext yet make for disturbing viewing. Oleg Mutu’s cinematography works within cramped sets to make our gaze feel intrusive, yet reluctant. It’s utterly pleasureless viewing from start to finish, with the exception of faultless acting from a cast who are surely capable of more than this suppressed, restrained film would suggest. Julia Kijowska and Magdalena Cielecka are especially evocative, and seem penned in by United States of Love’s excision of heightened emotion; they’re rarely allowed to exceed second gear.
United States of Love fluctuates between frustrating, shocking and alienating its audience through its pace, content and stylisation. It’s artfully made, yet underwritten and ethically problematic. The final scenes leave a bitter taste and fully justify the BBFC’s 18 certificate.
CAST: Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak, Marta Nieradkiewicz
DIRECTOR: Tomasz Wasilewski
WRITER: Tomasz Wasilewski
SYNOPSIS: Poland, 1990. The winds of change are blowing in Poland. Four apparently happy women of different ages decide it’s time to change their lives, fight for their happiness and fulfil their desires. Agata, trapped in an unhappy marriage, seeks refuge in another, impossible relationship. Renata becomes fascinated by her neighbour Marzena – a lonely former local beauty queen, whose husband works in Germany. Marzena’s sister Iza is a headmistress in love with the father of one of her students.