Released by: Kino Lorber
Released on: November 15th, 2016.
Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Cast: Sabine Azéma, Jean-François Balmer, Jonathan Genet
Year: 2015 Purchase From Amazon
Based on the 1965 novel by Witold Gombrowicz, Cosmos, Andrzej Zulawski’s final motion picture, follows a young man named Witold (Jonathan Genet) who has tried but failed to pass the bar exam. He and his friend Fuchs (Johan Libereau), a man who has just recently left his job in the fashion industry, are getting some rest and relaxation at a guesthouse run by the Madame Woytis (Sabine Azema) and her husband Leon (Jean-François Balmer).
When Witold comes across a dead sparrow hanged in the nearby woods, things take some strange twists and turns, particularly once he meets and becomes obsessed with Lena (Victoria Guerra), Madame Woytis’ daughter. And then there’s the unusual matter of the maid and Leon’s unusual tendency of explaining the meaning of life with one word: “Bleurgh.”
A genuinely strange film, Cosmos is complex and philosophical in the way that most of Zulawski’s work tends to be, but at the same time it’s also a simple story of people interacting with one another. We get elements of romance, drama and even a bit of science fiction in and amongst the meandering philosophical nature of the film. It’s all quite fascinating, even if it might take repeat viewings to really click. It’s also not nearly as dark as some of Zulawski’s better known pictures. While there are certainly macabre moments here, the hanged sparrow and what follows are good examples, but there is some effectively dark comedy at work as well.
The performances are solid here. Genet makes for a perfectly believable leading man, a young guy just trying to get away from the pressures of the world. We can buy him in the part with no trouble at all. Likewise, the same qualities apply to Libereau. Really though, it’s Sabine Azema, Jean-François Balmer and Victoria Guerra who make more of an impression. They’re an odd family to be sure but these three actors are careful not to overdo it lest this all crumble down into some sort of self-parody. Additionally the production values are top notch. Zulawski may have shot this digitally in high definition and so it lacks the texture inherent in 35mm film, but once you get accustomed to seeing his work presented this way you won’t mind so much. Rather, you’ll get lost in the visuals and be consistently impressed with the creativity behind the compositions used in the picture.
Zulawski likes visual contrast. Here he pairs off suicide with passionate sex, and in doing so quite literally pairing life and death against one another. Surrealism and reality are also occasionally at odds with one another throughout the film as Zulawski posits that while all of this might be meaningless, we should at least try to find something more here. Cosmos is definitely one of those pictures out of which you will receive as much as out of it as you are willing to invest in it. This is not an easy film, but it is remarkably well mad and in its own bizarre way, genuinely fascinating.
Cosmos arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen on a 50GB disc. Shot digitally, the picture is crystal clear showing no print damage, dirt or debris. Colors are nicely handled here and look quite natural, especially in the scenes that take place outdoors. Black levels are nice and deep and there are no problems with compression artifacts or overt aliasing. Skin tones are nice and natural looking and the transfer sports strong detail, good depth and impressive texture.
Audio options are offered in French and English DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track and in French DTS-HD 5.1 with subtitles provided in English only. The 5.1 track gets the edge for using the surround channels rather well when music is used and during the few scenes that feature more aggressive sound effects/foley. That aside, both the 5.1 and 2.0 options are crisp, clean and clear with good balance and no audible defects to note.
Extras for this release start off with an audio commentary by historian Daniel Bird, who knows his way around Zulawski’s filmography quite well. He talks offers up his interpretation of the events that are portrayed in the film, he makes some observations about the performances and the settings and also offers up plenty of information about the story, the locations, the cast, the screw and the score. It’s an informative and interesting track that’s absolutely worth listening to if you want to learn more about Zulawski’s final picture.
Also on hand is an eight minute long making-of featurette. This is a quick but interesting look at what it was like on set while making the film that also provides a look at some of the props and makeup effects and the director working alongside his cast. Kino also provides a video essay by filmmaker David Cairns that runs just over twelve minutes in length. This piece dives fairly deep into what Cosmos is all about and how it fits in alongside some of the director’s other pictures.
Rounding out the extras are an international trailer, a theatrical trailer, a seven minute introduction by producer Paulo Branco and director Andrzej ZulAwski shot before a screening of the feature, menus and chapter selection.
Inside the very cool looking black keepcase alongside the Blu-ray disc is an insert booklet containing an essay on the picture written by critic Glenn Kenny.
The Final Word:
Cosmos is a bizarre film, but then it wouldn’t be a Zulawski picture if it were conventional. This one is worth watching more than once just to make sure you pick up on the subtle and not so subtle intricacies of the story and the production. The movie is also quite clever with its black humor and features impressive cinematography and a nice score. Kino’s Blu-ray is a very nice package overall, presenting Cosmos in beautiful shape and with some nice extra features.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!