Witold (Jonathan Genet) has just been struggling with his student exams and is seeking somewhere to get away from it all and study, so he and his friend Fuchs (Johan Libéreau) arrive in a quiet Portuguese coastal town and a guest house there, which should offer them all the peace they need to relax and set about their business without interruption. However, no sooner has Witold taken a look about the area than he is mightily disturbed by the sight of a sparrow that has been hanged with a piece of string, from a branch and around the neck: who would do such a thing to a little bird that had no malice in its heart? The family who run the guest house are no help in solving this riddle, as they have issues of their own...
Director Andrzej Zulawski had not helmed a film in fifteen years when he made an unexpected return to the medium with this downright confounding effort, proof that he had no intention of mellowing in his old age, though sadly it would be the final work of a man who had amassed a cult following across the world, if not wide acclaim, indeed, you would be hard pressed to find anyone but the most dedicated art cinema aficionado who was not only familiar with his name but also had seen more than one of his output. The one that attracted the most attention was Possession from the early eighties, and that was mainly down to it being labelled a video nasty in Britain as part of that moral panic.
It was unlikely Cosmos was going to generate that degree of interest, as for a start there were precious few viewers who had any idea what it was about. It was one of those surrealist works where the characters seemed to know what they were relating, but there was a disconnect between their reasoning and what most of those watching would find coherent, so there was a very real threat of you experiencing this and finding it driving you up the wall if you wanted a straight answer from your art. It was an art movie, with all the experimentation that can entail, but there were also signs it was intended to be humorous on some level, as if there were jokes being told in each scene that you had to fathom for yourself.
For the majority, this was not going to feel worth their while to analyse, especially when there was an evident trickster quality informing everything in it, from the way the dialogue sounded like it made sense until you thought, "wait a second, what were they on about there, anyway?" to the way it rejected any narrative format that could have been perceived as traditional with the results that were more puzzling than cohesive. Zulawski had based this on a novel from his youth back in Poland, the writer being Witold Gombrowicz who damn few outside of Polish literary circles would be familiar with, and if they were they may not recognise the text in what the director had made of it. Constantly meaning and context were held up to scrutiny, shifting the ground from under the characters as well as the audience.
On the other hand, if you were up for a challenge then here was a film you could lose yourself in, though how rewarding delving into its mysteries would be was very much up to you, as there would have been the danger of it not giving up any secrets whatsoever, even with extensive examination. The cast were uniformly bright and willing to take the material as far as they could, or indeed be taken as far as they could by Zulawski who alone appeared to be aware of what he was trying to tinker with here. Some of it was amusing enough to prompt laughter: Jean-François Balmer as the patriarch had a twinkle in his eye as he spouted his nonsense, often so ridiculous that you couldn't help but indulge him, yet elsewhere the aim could have been to disturb with its hanged animals (and a piece of wood) graduating to a hanged person in the latter stages. Not quite a comedy, not quite a romance (Witold becomes romantically obsessed with the newly married daughter Victória Guerra), not quite a drama when it was so absurdist, Cosmos was resolutely its own thing, and weirdly compelling in its flagrant disregard for any conventions. Music by Andrzej Korzynski.