United States Of Love (Zjednoczone Stany Miłości)

Tomasz Wasilewski’s latest film is unswervingly dour and depressing, though there is seemingly so little enjoyment and so much yearning in the lives of his four female protagonists that’s hardly surprising. Set in Poland as the Iron Curtain lifts across Europe, and using a desaturated colour palette that rather brings to mind the milky look of Roy Andersson’s films as opposed to a vibrant new dawn, the writer-director focuses equally on four characters who have seemingly arrived at crossroads within their lives: generally-speaking they are unfulfilled by their relationships (sexually and otherwise) and unable to find solace or support from the groups and establishments (families, the Catholic Church, the school system, etc.) that they have previously relied upon. Sometimes cinematographer Oleg Mutu frames shots so that the women appear to be in makeshift ‘prisons’, an example being a scene on a stairwell where one of the women fakes a fall to attract the sympathey of her neighbour; at other times wide shots show physical distance between the women and the men they know, which obviously indicates figurative distance too. The men in the story are largely awful: violent and prone to taking advantage of women when they can, such as a photographer abusing his position in the creepy final moments. Like Wasilewski’s earlier films it often looks very good indeed, the performances are all-round impressive, and there’s certainly sympathy here towards the protagonists, so there’s much to recommend it; I did find it a bit of a chore to get through, though, due to the relentlessly downbeat mood. (***½)