United States of Love tells the overlapping stories of a quartet of women all of whom are in search of love, which means different things to each of them, in a post communist Poland. Women are firmly at the heart of this third full length feature film by writer/director Tomasz Wasilewski. United States of Love doesn’t just examine what people do with new found freedom but the avalanche of emotions that accompany that freedom.
United States of Love is set in 1990, a year after the Berlin Wall came down and a moment of tremendous change for Poland. The freedom of the west beckons and the shackles of communist life are beginning to be shaken off. The film follows the lives of four women of mixed ages and social status. There is Agata (Julia Kijowska) in her 30s who is married to a man she no longer loves or does she, anxious for change that transforms itself into a passionate, obsessive love for a local priest. Renata (Dorota Kolak), an older woman, English teacher with an unhealthy obsession in her younger, neighbour and former beauty queen Marzena (Marta Nieradkiewicz), the latter who teaches aerobics at the local gym. Marzena’s sister is Iza (Magdalena Cielecka ) the headmistress of the school where Renata works who has been having a secret 6 year affair with the father of a student.
As with other interlacing stories some characters are more fully formed than others. Iza and Agata appear to have more depth and explanation than that of Renata – who could be described as a lonely spinster with an unhealthy obsession of Marzena who appears to have it all. The beauty of this film is not only are you watching the lives of others but that the women, the male characters are tertiary, themselves can be used as metaphors of: old Poland; the promise of freedom, exploitation and change. Themes of alienation, love, desperation and freedom and how these feel inhabit every single frame of this film. The interesting point of the film comes at the funeral where the priest talks of the deceased as entering into a new life. Maybe that is what it meant to have a new life in communist Poland, one had to die to be free, but when freedom arrives how do you deal with it. The setting of the film is ideal it is non descript tower block that feels sterile and suffocating with the weight of expectation and perfectly reflects the feeling and narrative of the film. Oleg Mutu as cinematographer perfectly captures the tone and feel of the film- it is never bright nor dull just is.
This is an interesting film that develops slowly in a haze of cigarette smoke, the opening scenes capture the period exactly as it was people smoked at dinner, and all this is done without a hint of nostalgia. There are a lot of unanswered questions that remain but in some respect the viewer must answer them. The weakest character in the film is Renata, whilst the obsession can sort of be explained her actions can’t. Magdalena Cielecka is mesmerising on screen and it is her performance that gives this film its power.
However, this is definitely a film to watch to observe the effect of change and the spectrum of female emotions in post communist Poland.
United States of Love opens in cinemas across the UK on 18 November.
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