Gracefully charting the delirious highs and heartbreaking lows of the excited love affair between a composer named Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and a folk singer named Zula (Joanna Kulig) as they conform to the sour vagaries of life in post-war Poland under Communist rule, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is an achingly lovely achievement.
Like Ida (2013), Pawlikowski’s previous period drama, Cold War shares a similar setting and luminous black and white view, but the two films are vastly different in their emotional approach and expression. Where Ida was all about narrative minimalism, this film is about abbreviated circumstance and dense storytelling economy. A more moving and sophisticated drama amidst modern European history you’re unlikely to find.
A deeply personal film for Pawlikowski, and one both dedicated to and inspired by his parents, whose shared lives detailed divorce, reconciliation, remarriage, and frequent travel amidst tensions, as well as drawing inspiration from the Mazowsze ensemble (a famous Polish song and dance folk group).
Aided by his go-to cinematographer Lukasz Zal, Pawlikowski imbues Cold War with a wealth of chiaroscuro interiors, icy yet exquisite circular tracking shots –– which seem to capture the drunkenness of love entirely –– all adding to an ingenious and ecstatic effect. For Wiktor and Zula’s story is one of adaptability, danger, and the enduring intoxication of love.
While there is something very prosaic about a couple unable to live together or apart, this decades-spanning, rhapsodic, wandering narrative is mesmeric and, owing to the doomed resignation of the charismatic leads, it never feels overstated.
Kulig, as Zula, is absolutely electrifying. As she vibrantly descants Parisian torch songs that sets the enraptured mood of the film it’s easy to see why so many have suggested she may be the new Jeanne Moreau. With a sentimental sigh and a quick wipe away of tears, Cold War is a film of burning seduction and charming, cryptic truth.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.