Cold War - Review

Paweł Pawlikowski’s follow-up to the Oscar winning Ida is as glorious as filmmaking can be.

Dive into the river of beauty, maturity, and passion, and see what you find on the other side. There is a world of affliction writhing at your heels, but with your eyes fixed on the one you love, there will be no danger. Even as you sink, there will be someone to draw you out and into life. So is the story of Cold War: a frightening and ardent love story inspired by the most basic of human emotions. Jealous feelings inspire rage and animosity, and the most loving encounters can be washed away in a second by a choice word. Paweł Pawlikowski writes and directs a stitched-together vignet, reaching across the barrier of time to tell an age old story; lost in its own time, it chooses to reflect its subject’s. Told in ambient black and white, and a 4:3 aspect ratio, it has the feeling of classic American cinema, mixed with the editing flavor of the French New Wave. This is, however, a Polish picture through and through, though little of it takes place in Poland. Cold War is about time spent away from home, and the bond formed with the person who is your someone.

A quick and tidy pace ushers in a new scene every few minutes, as if set on a timer. Between a ten year period, Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) travel to Paris, Yugoslavia, Berlin, and back to Poland in pursuit of each other. Time does not keep them apart, and we as the viewer are privy only to their reunions. It’s idealistic at first, but as the film begins to linger on certain years, natural tension makes its way to the forefront. Their love is pure, but that doesn’t stop Zula from being rash. Wiktor is inconsiderate, the male stereotype of knowing what is best for a woman without feeling the need to ask. They brush against each other frequently, but with a constant communication, each avoids falling prey to the male/female stereotypes that dominate their decisions. Their lives are a constant push and pull, swaying like the lazy line of a saxophone or a muted drum that always finds its way back to the beat. Cold War uses traditional Polish folk music as a symbol for national pride, and pride in oneself, but it also represents the acting style of the two leads. A forlorn look across the room from Wiktor is far more powerful than any phrase he can conjure up, and Zula’s various entrances to Wiktor’s life yield only joy. Her smile is superb, her face with a texture that embodies the kind of unconditional love the two feel for each other: total, uncompromising, even dangerous. It could easily be a silent film, and perhaps would have been more effective as one; the best scenes in the film are wordless.

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The various locations in Cold War convey emotions all their own. In Paris Wiktor is happier, more focused on his musical career than in Poland or Yugoslavia. He is determined to rise to his peers, a desire predictably shattered by Zula. She longs for her familiar, uncomplicated life in Poland, away from the socialites and city obligations. Even with an astounding singing voice, she shows little desire to sing outside of her Polish group, despite her partner’s insistence. The tension that arises is authentic, but the story doesn’t try to undermine Zula and Wiktor’s love. It uses trial to form it, to break it into something strong. Zula will admit that Wiktor is her lifelong partner, and Wiktor will give her a certain affectionate look. This is the marriage of visual and auditory communication, the kind of idea musicians struggle with everyday. Their love is complementary, interlocking, and by the end of the film, inseparable. The cinematography tells a story of condensed individuals, looking to escape into something large. By the time they do, the camera has not widened, and the shots are not clearer. But they are together, and they are in love. And that is all that matters.