"...outclasses most of this years best picture Oscar nominees."

An Hypnotic Historical Drama

(033119) Cold War is a hypnotic historical drama about a romance that takes place in a turbulent and troubled historical period. The film is set in Poland in the late 40s and 50s when the Soviet Union asserted their authority over the country.

Cold War has deservedly received almost universal acclaim. At the Cannes Film Festival, it was nominated for the Palme D’Or, and Pawlikowski won for best director. The film gained also Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography. It is comparatively rare for a foreign film to get a best director nomination.

The film is filled to the brim with beautiful Polish folk production numbers which are as good as anything in A Star is Born.

The director, Paweł Pawlikowski, co-wrote the screenplay with Janusz Głowacki and Piotr Borkowski. His last film, the oddly gorgeous Ida (which was also in black and white and under 90 minutes) is probably one of the finest films of the decade.

The troubled couple who spent most of the film consumed with desire are portrayed by Tomasz Kot (he is currently working on World on Fire and, a BBC series featuring Helen Hunt) and Joanna Kulig (she was in Innocents which was also directed by Pawilikowski. Both characters are damaged and extremely flawed which might partially explain why they are so drawn to each other.

At the start of the film, the musician Wictor (well played by Kot) tours the countryside gathering folk music (he is like the Polish Alan Lomax) with his partner, Irena, (who could have been a potential love interest) he puts together a small folk ensemble to recreate and persevere his native country’s traditions. He has a pro worker mentality and he wants to share the “music born in the fields.” It is also implied that he wants to preserve a culture that is in danger of being diluted, appropriated or wiped out by the occupying Soviets.

In an audition he meets the terrifically talented and attractive Zula (Kulig who gives an Oscar worthy performance). Her vocal delivery is initially unpolished, but she has a great voice but he is immediately taken with her artistic spirit. Soon the two are making googly eyes at each other, jumping into the sack, and falling in love.

Zula had just gotten out of jail for stabbing her father; as she explains it, “He mistook me for my mother, and I used a knife to show him the difference.” The character is loosely based on Pawilikowsk’s mother who ran away at a young age to become a ballerina.

The film introduces the encroachment of (then) modern Western music in an interesting way in a sequence uses handheld camera close-ups to heighten the realism. A neglected, drunk Zula tries to make Victor jealous by throwing herself at other men on the dance floor while Bill Hailey’s “Rock Around the Clock” is playing. It is clear that the music helped to push her into a mood of pure sexual abandon. This sequence is one of the most exhilarating and exciting ones I have seen all year.

The couple’s relationship encounters another obstacle. A Soviet supervisor who is as bland and uncreative as most of the educational autocrats I have met in real life, begins giving minor suggestions and pushes the performers to focus on doing communist propaganda songs (he initially just asks for a “strong song about the leader of the world proletariat leader).

Viktor believes that he is in service to “authentic folk art’ and he resists the proposed changes while Zula is much more eager to just follow the program.

The couple splits up and both of them end up going through periods of profound unhappiness. Wiktor runs off to France and becomes a less glamorous version of the sort of bohemian musician that the beat poets idolized. Perhaps he chooses to play jazz because the Soviet communists considered it degenerate capitalist junk. Meanwhile Zula stays with the ensemble and goes through the motions performing bad communist songs while sacrificing her artistic integrity. In a random touring encounter the couple meet up again and their passion reignites.

The shocking ending is abrupt and unexpected, and I don’t think that the movie adequately sets us up for it. But while the film does not quite reach the exquisite heights of Ida, this gorgeous film is well worth seeking out, and it outclasses most of this years best picture Oscar nominees.

Directed by:  Paweł Pawlikowski
Written by:  Paweł Pawlikowski, Janusz Głowacki and Piotr Borkowski
Starring:   Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot and Borys Szyc
Released:  011819
Length:  85 minutes
Rating:   Rated R for some sexual content, nudity and language

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COLD WAR  ©  2018 Zentropa Entertainments
Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.