Cold War

Ida director Paweł Pawlikowski delivers a stylish love story set during the early years of the Cold War

Film Review by Joseph Walsh | 11 May 2018
  • Cold War
Film title: Cold War
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cédric Kahn, Jeanne Balibar

Following on from the Oscar-winning Ida, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski returns with Cold War, another period film that’s been sumptuously shot in black and white by Łukasz Żal. Loosely based on Pawlikowski’s own parents' experiences, it's a story of wounded love told across a 15-year period at the beginning of tensions between the Soviet Union and the West. At its centre is the tempestuous relationship between a suave conductor, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), and a beautiful, hot-tempered singer, Zula (Joanna Kulig).

Opening in Poland in 1949, Wiktor is part of a group looking for ‘authentic’ folk musicians, who they can take on tour to promote Polish culture. Zula – who is rumoured to have murdered her father – auditions for the show and proves to be a massive hit. Wiktor falls hard for the young singer, but they’re soon to be separated when the troupe’s manager, Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc), decides to team up with the Soviets and take the tour to an international level. The cost is to join the Stalinist propaganda machine.

Wiktor refuses to work under such conditions and opts for crossing over into the liberal West to enjoy the delights of Paris and her underground jazz clubs. Zula has become too in love with the limelight to follow him – at least initially. What follows is a sophisticatedly structured emotional portrait of a volatile relationship that travels back and forth, journeying across borders and ideologies as the couple attempt to reconcile their love with the world around them.

Kot and Kulig are beguiling, wrapped up entirely in this push and pull relationship. Tender moments of passion shift within a single cut to rage and distrust, with Kulig given some of the pithiest and most cutting lines of dialogue. The juxtaposition of life behind the Iron Curtain and mid-century Paris is deftly done, with the scenes in the City of Lights exuding an effortless grace and cool.

Like Ida, Cold War is shot in the Academy ratio (the boxy 3:4 aspect ratio used in early cinema) giving the film an old-world elegance, even if the framing of the shots is distinctly modern. The disparate musical genres employed by Pawlikowski on paper sound ludicrous, ranging from jazz to Polish folk music performed by Mariachi bands, jumping to Bill Haley & His Comets’ Rock Around the Clock. In practice, however, these disparate musical genres are one of the highlights of the film, sharply demonstrating in shorthand the tensions that exist between Eastern and Western Europe.

Told with an icy-sense of humour, Cold War is Pawlikowski's finest work to date, proving to be a dexterous examination of two juxtaposed political ideologies wrapped in a mesmerising story of wounded love.

Cold War had its world premiere at The 2018 Cannes Film Festival – for more Cannes coverage, click here

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