Cold War, 2018.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.
Starring Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cédric Kahn, Jeanne Balibar, and Adam Woronowicz.
A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatefully mismatched, set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris.
Cold War is one for the growing crowd of moviegoers (and some critics) that feel films are spiraling out of control in their running times, as this latest offering from Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (once again collaborating with his much celebrated Ida cinematographer Lukasz Zal) that is dedicated to and based on the lives of his parents (the protagonists even share the same names) follows an iffy but nevertheless passionate relationship caught, quite literally, on two different sides of politics, spanning the intimate highs and devastating lows of their interactions across 15 years (1949- 1964) within 85 minutes.
Rather than dole out historical exposition upon exposition to draw audiences into this tragic romance, Cold War (also written by Pawel Pawlikowski, alongside assistance from Janusz Glowacki and Piotr Borkowski) steeps its presentation in the culture of the various countries the story circles around (ranging from dreary Poland to the luminous and bustling free life of Paris, all exquisitely captured and distinguishable from one another even in monochrome aesthetics) and the music that would go on to define the times and places of each country. Opening up with close-up shots of random citizens singing Polish folk tunes, Cold War gradually shifts into jazz and even some rock ‘n roll, all of which help transport the audience back in time without feeling the need to overly explain every political strife or new major development. Cold War may be the title of the film, but it most definitely is the backdrop setting for the central focus of this love story that is fleshed out with every time capsule moment (rather than cut from scene to scene, Pawel Pawlikowski fades to black following each important exchange between the star-crossed lovers).
Brought together by music, it is politics that divide Wiktor and Zula (played by Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig respectively, both with fiery lust for one another despite their differences and the unfolding events that devastatingly place them on different life paths), and while diving deep into the mindset of each of them is not a core strength or even a goal of the film, the sweeping overall narrative manages to render this suffering with empathetic results. Yes, there are moments where we want to know more, and honestly, the brisk and short length of the film is a slight problem, but there’s also no denying the filmmaker’s crystallized vision for successfully pulling at the heart strings. Part of what keeps Cold War from feeling like a Wikipedia notes entry of the lives of Pawel’s parents is that there is always an aura of intrigue left allowing more to be right into, rather than coming across as a series of scenes that show everything in the most boring way imaginable. Not only that, but every moment that does exist feels grand and pertinent to the larger picture, whether they are moments of love expressed physically, painful separations, or upsetting realizations at the things this couple is willing to do to make things work. Consider it the ultimate long-distance relationship.
As mentioned, the photography is sublime; most notably is a moment where Zula dives into a body of water, submerged underneath but not totally, slightly revealing portions of her face in clothing. Equally impressive are the numerous Polish song and dance segments, seemingly brought to screen with a great amount of care and respect for the traditions, also with pleasant costume design. Most images here resemble a painting worth hanging on a wall, but perhaps more important to note is that these meticulously calibrated shots evoke just as much character definition as stylistic purpose. I suppose when every image is a work of unparalleled beauty, a shorter running time is reasonable and to be expected.
It’s not exactly a surprise where Cold War will go and end up, but even when it does go there, the narrative resonates as depressing. With that said, if there were maybe 20-30 more minutes of material elaborating on the motives and inner thought processes of the lovebirds, the ending would probably elicit a full-on ugly cry. As it stands, Cold War is a beautiful showcasing of unbreakable and incomparably dedicated romance capable of strengthening the bond between any couple that watches it. Focus less on the shortcomings and more on getting swept up in three decades of music and romance that authentically captures every astonishing little detail.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com