Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Screenwriters: Pawel Pawlikowski and Janusz Glowaki, in collaboration with Piotr Borkowski
Runtime: 88 mins.
Australian release date: 26 December 2018
Previewed at: Verona Cinema, Paddington, Sydney, on 22 December 2018.
Set in Warsaw, East Berlin, Paris and Yugoslavia during the post-war period of the 1950s, Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest feature, is one of the coolest films to grace the screen this year. Critically acclaimed at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it took out the Best Director prize, it could well pick up the award for Best Foreign Film at the 2019 Oscars too. It will certainly be a strong contender. The black-and-white drama is superbly captured by Lukasz Zal’s asymmetric cinematographic framing and finely edited by Jaroslaw Kaminski, both of whom worked with Pawlikowski on his previous Academy Award-winner, Ida.
The establishment of a cultural musical ensemble in Poland in 1949, initiated to prop up national pride in the aftermath of WWII, brings together an accomplished pianist and musicologist, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), and a beautiful singer, Zula (Joanna Kulig). They fall passionately in love and consider escaping to the West while on tour in East Berlin in 1952, but an ill-fated decision changes their destinies and they are separated by the Iron Curtain. Wiktor settles in Paris and becomes a successful jazz musician but never forgets Zula, so when she arrives in the West a couple of years later, it seems they will finally be together, but life together is not so easy and they split once again. This tragic pattern repeats itself in their lives until, a decade and a half after their first meeting, the depth of their shared love is revealed in heart-breaking reality.
In the spate of movie releases over the summer season, Cold War is a superior gem. The two leads are mesmerizing and the era is beautifully recreated in a classic 4:3 aspect ratio which reflects its 1950s setting. Kulig, who also appeared in Ida, is particularly breathtaking. She and Kot superbly embody their characters’ oppositional emotional states. Wiktor is cool while Zula is hot and Pawlikowski says he based the pair on his parents, whose names he kept in the film. Of them the director explains, “Well, this type of relationship is a bit of a war all the time. Two strong, restless individuals, very unlike each other, two extreme poles. Zula and Wiktor have other lovers, relationships, husbands and wives, but they realise with time that nobody will ever be as close to them as each other, because - for all the historical and geographical comings and goings - nobody knows who they are as well as each other. At the same time, paradoxically, they are the one person they can’t be with.”
As you’d expect in a tale about two musicians, this magnificent film contains a fabulous soundtrack that indicates both the period of time in which the events take place and the different levels in the couple’s relationship. The opening scenes capturing a number of Polish folk songs are quite extraordinary. The languid pacing, despite the upheaval of the times and the tragic story, makes Cold War one of the sexiest films of the season.