Film Review: Cold War

Still from Cold War

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s post WW II love story, inspired by his own parents.

There will likely be few films this year that offer quite so much cinematic talent, artistic beauty, and intriguing history in so short a space of time (under 90 minutes) as Cold War does. A post-WWII love story, using black-and-white photography (captured in a square frame rather than wide-screen) to tell a tale that looks beyond mere romance to encompass changing trends in societal politics across various European nations, accompanied by music and dance that ranges from earthy folk traditions to coolly sophisticated jazz.

The two key figures in this saga are singer/dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig) and musician/composer Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). It is a measure of the distinct style brought to this film by its Polish-born, U.K.-trained writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski that the characters’ names seem barely even spoken in the course of the film.

Adding to the unusual feel of Cold War is the strategy taken with editing. Jumps in time are given inter-titles to orientate us, but are generally also prefaced by a hard cut-to-black followed by brief silence. Most of these jumps also leave out a good deal of connecting information, leaving the audience to fill in a lot of gaps. Many art-house patrons will relish this kind of opportunity to apply their own imagination, intelligence, and empathy to a film, while some audiences may find it frustrating.

Kulig and Kot have both been smartly cast for their striking looks and magnetic screen presence (Kulig may remind you of both Liv Ullmann and Jennifer Lawrence), but to this reviewer, they each tend towards remaining stubbornly close to ‘blank slates’ as people. This does not necessarily mean that we find ourselves uncaring towards the progress of their relationship, but the style that Pawlikowski has chosen seems to put us at a remove from his protagonists. The few brief, striking interludes of overtly emotional, physical passions that we witness are largely muted by the predominantly precise framing, elliptical storytelling, and literal lack of colour.

Cold War offers all-around quality, ambition, and intelligence, and manages to feel well-above-satisfactory on the surface. Those who cherished the side of this director that produced a tale of romance as involving and vividly human as his contemporary-U.K.-set My Summer of Love may, however, have to fight a feeling of slight disappointment. Perhaps the healthy box office and prestigious awards enjoyed by his other Polish production, nun’s tale Ida, made it simply too tempting for Pawlikowski to resist repeating so many of that film’s stylistic hallmarks: a square black-and-white image, brief running time, historical setting, emotional reserve.

On the other hand, it’s probably unfair to view the film-maker’s intentions cynically, as Cold War is dedicated to Pawlikowski’s parents, whose own history is said to have inspired this screenplay. Considering the nature of the movie’s ending – which definitely has the means to surprise, to linger, and to haunt – this information adds another layer of intrigue to the historical/romantic tapestry on display, making Cold War, despite this reviewer’s reservations, a rich and striking journey that is worth taking.

There will be special advance screenings of Cold War  this weekend at Palace Nova Eastend only.

Click here for further details.

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