Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Running Time: 1 HR 29 mins
Nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography), “Cold War” is an engaging yet tragic period drama that is much deserving of all its accolades.
Shot entirely in black-and-white with English subtitles,
writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida”) deftly captures the
brutal essence of communist-controlled Eastern Europe while putting us
on a complicated, 15-year odyssey of obsession.
The story begins in 1949 Poland where the scars of a world war
are still fresh. A soft-spoken music director Wiktor (Tomasz Kot, “Gods”)
is tapped to co-helm a school that’s intended to create a group of
talented young people to stage traditional, Polish folk dances. It is during
auditions at the bullet-ridden school that a crafty blonde singer named
Zula (Joanna Kulig, “Pitbull: Tough Women”) catches his eye. Despite a warning about her troubled past, Wiktor and Zula develop a
secret, passionate love affair.
Two years later they have an opportunity to escape their communist
oppressors by crossing into West Berlin, but Zula chickens out while
the brooding Wiktor leaves her behind anyway to go carve out a life as
a jazz pianist in Paris. Even though lovers come and go as the years
pass by, Wiktor still regards Zula as the love of his life. His devotion to
her is so strong that he even risks being sent to a Polish prison when he
travels to Yugoslavia to watch Zula perform.
They only reunite when Zula marries an Italian man so she can get out
from behind the Iron Curtain to be with Wiktor. A successful singing
career begins to take shape with Wiktor accompanying her on piano.
However, her jealousy towards other women and her desire to be the
center of attention, especially Wiktor’s, leads Zula to run back to
communist Poland. Wiktor is desperate to follow her but he knows he
will be arrested if he does. It proves to be a fateful test of his devotion to
Pawlikowski’s endeavor has all the feel of a film straight out of 1957 as
he channels the bleak repression the peoples of Eastern Europe faced
under Soviet dominance. There is a paranoid sense that there are eyes
everywhere, and in some instances its true. It’s this omnipresent fear he
generates with his script that gives Zula and Wiktor’s relationship a
palpable edginess. Their romance is so much like a careening roller
coaster that it makes it difficult to accurately predict its outcome.
Kulig is brilliant as she infuses a sense of instability into Zula. In a
way, you want to yell out in vain to Wiktor to stay away from her,
but his devotion runs so deep that he is beyond help. This obsession is
played with expert subtlety by Kot and skillful direction by Pawlikowski
who keeps the pacing brisk with a short running time. Never mind the
critical darling that is “Roma.” Instead, go see “Cold War.” Trust me,
there’s nothing cold about it.