Prepare to be well and truly bamboozled. Attaining maddening, yet fascinating, levels of abstraction and ambiguity, Cosmos is the final feature from Polish auteur Andzrej Zulawski, who passed away in February. His last project is nigh on impossible to fully comprehend; an unclassifiable, existential mind-bender which takes us down the rabbit hole of human nature and thought via the warped psyche and piercing, goggly eyes of law school drop out and aspiring novelist, Witold (Jonathan Genet). Imagine Withnail and I after something a little more potent than two double gins and a pint of cider.
As if in resume of the frenetic, madcap narrative – in the loosest sense of the term – upon arriving home after a delirious weekend away Witold says to friend and confidant, Fuchs, “There’s a reason I have Gombrowicz’s first name. He never knew how to finish his novels, nor their meaning.” It is a statement of reflection that applies to both source novel and a film that is frantic, at times completely deranged and persistently self-aware. There’s no real beginning, middle or end, and attempting to draw lines between disparate constellations of ideas is a fool’s errand. But although the enigmatic plot may frustrate, it cannot help but provoke thought. Made by a Polish director, set somewhere in Portugal, the fact that all the characters speak French is the first of many unexplained contrivances. Place and language – there are occasional drops into English by Lena (Victoria Guerra), for whom Witold falls – are secondary to the zigzagging ideas and pervasion of general insanity.
Indeed, although Witold is ostensibly taking a break away to study ahead of re-taking law exams, he spends most of his time lost in thought and tapping away the next great French philosophical novel in an enormous font on his laptop. There is an extraordinary intensity to his gaze and speech, frequently shattering the fourth wall: “The savage power of a stupid thought,” he states both in his own voice before mimicking Donald Duck. This is but one example of literary and cinematic intertextuality that sees Stendhal, Ophuls, Pasolini and a host of others dropped into conversation as Witold grapples for some sense of meaning or understanding.
Located somewhere between Fawlty Towers and the Grand Budapest Hotel this is a guest house full of sublimely odd characters and goings on which imperceptibly become all the more mysterious and haunting as first a bird, a chicken, blocks of wood, a cat and lastly one in their midst are all hanged. Part murder-mystery, Witold’s half-arsed attempts to find the culprit of these dastardly acts while observing his hosts and other guests meditates on the creative process and the nature of being in befuddling fashion. Why does the mother of the house freeze in moments of excitement? Why does Fuchs come back from nights out with so many unexplained injuries? Why does Leon repeat, invent and elongate words to such a degree? Ours is not to reason why. Cosmos is as elusive, obscure and intriguing as they come.