Set in Poland in 1990, year that marked the beginning of the fall of the socialist block, the film opens with a group of friends having dinner at one of the group members’ place. They chat, eat, drink and smoke with total ease, as if they could sense the beginning of a new free era. The scene is grandiose in its aesthetics, the pale range of colours, the dull light, the smoke, the cold beauty of three of the four women who will later on braid the story; the entire ensemble could have been brought to life from a socialist realism version of a Lempicka painting. This scene preludes the pleasure, which will last to the end of the film, of enjoying Mutu’s masterly use of light and time suspension.
Agata has strong features, her hair is almost harshly brushed backwards to reveal a piercing cold-iced blue look, she experiments an aching shameful sexual attraction for the handsome priest of the anonymous Polish village where the film is set. Her self-destructive passion drives her to act irrational, having episodes of imperative urge for sexual intercourse with her confused husband to later on reject any physical contact with him. She endures an internal quarrel which will hurt those around.
Iza is the village’s school director, a self-controlled elegant and beautiful middle-aged woman who seems to know exactly what she wants. Her story begins at a funeral, which Agata is also attending, and where they only acknowledge the presence of each other by a discrete, yet hint of mutual understanding, nod. Iza is standing at the back of the church and leaves before the ceremony ends. We will then discover that the deceased is her lover’s wife, the village’s doctor. With a very successful range of dodging actions we realise he is no longer interested in their 6 years’ relationship for the despair of Iza, who had assumed they could be finally together as a couple. She insists, calls, presses, but nothing can bring him back. We witness then the distressful fall of an otherwise sensible woman, her despair pushes her to act foolishly reaching unexpected limits. The final scene of this story is in my view one of the most powerful of modern cinema, for its categorical horror, at the same time subtle, surrounded by a disturbing quietness and masterly filmed from a prudent distance by Molu’s camera.
Renata is forced to take retirement from her job as school teacher, Iza is in charge of informing her in a rather emotionless talk while Renata’s look drifts somewhere ahead of her. She lives alone with her caged birds which she likes to let free in the apartment while she eats her lonely dinner. She has another secret hobby which is spying through the peephole on her young neighbour. Marzena is Iza’s younger sister, a former beauty queen turned in an aerobics instructor. Renata experiences a platonic love for the young woman whom she worships in silence until she decides to get a move. She plots a series of pitiful accidental encounters in order to talk to her and be able to admire her from a closer distance. Marzena is the most candid character of the four, maybe due to her youth, she is also the most pathetic of all, since she represents the bitter disappointment of unreachable aspirations.
United States of Love is another exponent of the brutal realism of Eastern European cinema; it won the Silver Bear to the best screenplay at the Berlin film festival last year. Nonetheless the stories and characters are fully skilled driven, the strength of this film falls indisputably on the brilliant cinematography which I can never praise enough.
This movie is a delight for the Art cinema lovers out there.