Cold War (2018) ***** Winner Best Film | European Film Awards 2018

December 17th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski | Cast| Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Syzc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Khan, Jeanne Balibar | Drama | Poland

This beguilingly sexy and sad paean to disillusioned romantics everywhere portrays the euphoria we yearn for but cannot always sustain. Cold War spans a decade from the 1940s to the1960s where two lovers are caught inextricably in a web of passion and pain in a peripatetic relationship that saunters back and forth between Paris, Warsaw and Yugoslavia between pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer-dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig). Pawlikowski deftly handles love’s heartaches, high and lows with supreme grace and elegance.

Apart from the dazzling artistry – each frame is a sultry masterpiece – one of the most atmospheric elements and one that becomes a character in itself is the music, from Polish and Slavic folksongs to Chopin, Gerswin and Chuck Berry bringing back memories of Polish fare of the 1950s and 1960s scored by Andrzej Trzaskowski and Krzysztof Komeda, but also unites drama with his documentary fare such as Serbian Epics (1992)

Shot in Academy-ratio, Lukasz Zal’s velvety black and white cinematography evokes the 16mm of the era, and its Iron Curtain sensibilities link it to Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning gem Ida, although this is a more upbeat affair. Love and longing are themes that flourish throughout the director’s films from his time in England, where he shot Last Resort (2000) and My Summer of Love (2004), and the ephemeral nature of The Woman in the Fifth (2011). Pawlikowski’s work also has affinities with the films of Czech New Wave director Hugo Haas. The only subtle flaws is the abrupt departure of Wiktor’s lover Irena (Agata Kulesza)who either leaves through her disgust of Stalin or on seeing her partner caught in the fire of his new flame. But this by no means detracts from its sublime beauty as a concise yet richly-textured piece of work, and every gorgeous handmade tapestry has its endearing flaws. Flowing yet episodic, Cold War is melancholy but endlessly captivating.

Wiktor and Zula are united by music while he and Irena are curating an ethnomusicological project for dancers which morphs into an the Mazurek Ensemble, an agitprop of the Soviet regime promoting the Aryan heritage of the Poles. Lust envelops them but Kaczmarek’s career keeps him trapped in Communist Poland and when the ensemble travels to East Berlin to perform, Wiktor decides to defect to the West pleading Zula to come with him to Paris. The two profess undying love but flighty Zula bails at the last minute and stays behind in the East. Although she a mercurial woman she lacks the social confidence that Wiktor has inherited from his more grounded bourgeois background.

There is a deliciously spicy vignette where Jeanne Balibar plays Wiktor’s Parisian lover while Zula arrives at the party claiming to have married a Sicilian glass blower from Palermo. But it is clear that Wiktor and Zula are soul mates whose love transcends time and place. They are eventually drawn back together at the end of the 50s but their love cannot exist in this Cold War world with its privations, poverty and political regime. MT.

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