If Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Decalogue, 1989, Three Colours: Blue, 1993) was alive, he would probably consider hiring 36-year-old Tomasz Wasilevski as a cinematographer. Both use the same colours in order to paint Poland in late 1980s and early 1990s. They remember the same things and created a poetic portrait of a generation that had their lives split by politic events allegiances. Women in Kieslowski’s and Wasilevski’s films manifest a desire to start life anew, free of personal commitments, belongings and grief. They search for love persistently but in vain.
The United States of Love is set in the beginning of the 1990s in Poland, where the society is trying to reinvent itself after years of stagnation. Schools are being named ‘Solidarność’ (in a reference to “solidarity”), the first West German spa visitors are bringing hard currency into the country, porn videos are abundant and TV constantly repeats images of the trial of Romanian dictator Ceaușescu. On the other hand, private emotions remain untouched by these external changes: all the hopes and longings are caught in the middle of work, family and religion, desire and abstinence.
Tomasz Wasilewski portrays four women in a small provincial town. Agata is attracted to a priest and secretly observes him. Iza is a head teacher who has been having a long-standing affair with a married doctor. Russian language teacher Renata seeks a closer relationship with her young neighbour Marzena who teaches sports and dance, while Marzena dreams of an international career as a model. Wasilewski explains that he grew up in a traditional Catholic family mostly formed by women. His father had to leave their hometown in order to find work, and so it is natural that his female characters are complex and prevail over male characters.
The director chose to shoot during winter time because it symbolises of a “dry existence”. The nonsaturated colours reflect upon the attempts to escape anhedonia and a body-hating environment. There is a married woman that falls in love with a priest; a lesbian who after eight years suddenly has the courage to get closer to her platonic affection and an unpopular headteacher who melodramatically fights for her love. The scenes are raw, plain, and the emptiness is overwhelming. Emotions are the same in Western and Eastern Europe, but their expression is very different. The sensitivity of the actors and the director and actors allow for a vivid representation of the lack of freedom and spirituality of these women.
The United States of Love is a touching and universal film because it reflects the complex emotional state of women. And it is vibrant because it unveils a plethora of sentiments in such a condensed atmosphere.
The film was part of the official competition of the 66th Berlin Film Festival. It is out in cinemas on Friday, November 18th.
Don’t forget to watch the film trailer below: