It’s been three years since Pawel Pawlikowski won his Oscar for Ida, the first film in the Polish language to win an Oscar. This year he returns with a semi-biographical film inspired by the story of his own parents. I can’t express how invigorating it is to be able to see a love story play out in black and white in a cinema in 2018. In less than 90 minutes, Pawlikowski breaks your heart and earns every inch of praise you have to offer.
The film introduces us to Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a pianist who is in the process of recording folk songs. Zula (Joanna Kulig), a singer and dancer, is rumoured to have murdered her father but nevertheless becomes the object of Wiktor’s desire. They both dream of making it to Paris and escaping the captivity of the iron curtain but as time goes on, it seems that neither of them have the capacity to love or be loved. As passionate as their love is for each other, so are their own insecurities and loathing for one another. They need each other but they also need each other to back away. At one point in the film, Zula becomes a successful Edith Piaf-esque singer but Wiktor continues to follow her, believing that they will still run away together. As the years pass, these two very broken souls travel back and forth in a broken Europe in the hope of finally finding happiness.
The film triumphs in exposing the devastating effects of World War II and the eerie nature of the cold war. For film students and academics, Cold War offers much in the way of analysis and appreciation for Pawlikowski as a modern-day auteur. Using techniques influenced by the French New Wave, we are treated to superlative cinematography and a hypnotizing soundtrack that elevates the film to a new level. The visual detail is superb and it proves that black and white cinematography can be just as mesmerising as colour. The melancholic tone that underlies the film is sustained through a 4:3 aspect ratio and a piercing silence that acts as a recurring presence in the film. Music plays a crucial role in Cold War and audiences are treated to a spellbinding soundtrack with arrangements by Marcin Masecki. The score lifts the spirits of the film but the cold bitterness of the narrative is never compromised.
Much praise must also go to Joanna Kulig for her unmissable performance as the film’s anti-heroine. Heaving previously appeared in Pawlikowski’s films Ida and The Woman in the Fifth, Kulig here proves she is more than capable of being a leading lady as she shows off her abilities as an actress and a singer. There is a sincere and intense magnetism in her voice when she sings to the point that you can’t help but feel fascinated by her. Indeed, since the film’s premiere in Cannes, there has been much praise for Zulig’s performance as she transforms from a young breakthrough actress to an arthouse star. Tomasz Kot, too, has been praised for his portrayal of Wiktor and I would not be surprised if he becomes more prominent in future film discussions.
Cold War arrives at the Taliesin Arts Centre on Tuesday 6th November and is also available On Demand now at Curzon Home Cinema. The film is devastatingly romantic and serves as a ravishing tribute to Pawlikowski’s parents. In an era where cinemas are dominated by Hollywood franchises, superheroes and remakes, Cold War offers what I would consider to be the best qualities that film has to offer. In this way, I highly urge you all to indulge yourselves in Pawlikowski’s latest masterpiece and allow your hearts to be broken.
By Carlos Tseng