Cold War (2018)
April 11, 2019 9:29 AM - Subscribe

In the 1950s, a music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland for France.

Cold War (Polish: Zimna wojna) is a 2018 historical period drama film directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, who co-wrote the screenplay with Janusz Głowacki and Piotr Borkowski.[7] It is an international co-production by producers in France, Poland and the United Kingdom. Set in Poland and France during the Cold War from the late 1940s until the 1960s, the story follows a musical director who discovers a young singer, exploring their subsequent love story over the years. Loosely inspired by the lives of Pawlikowski's parents, the film stars Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig as the co-leads. Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cédric Kahn and Jeanne Balibar appear in supporting roles.

Michael Phillips: The result is a worthy follow-up to the Oscar-winning “Ida” (2013), which handed a big North American distribution success to Chicago’s Music Box Films. “Ida” took the director back to his native Poland for a spare, lean black-and-white evocation (photographed in the so-called “Academy” ratio, creating a nearly square image) of his homeland’s recent past. The look, brevity and shrewdly ironic detachment of “Cold War” hews closely to that of “Ida.” It runs a mere 77 minutes, excluding the opening and closing credits. It’s as verbally spare as it is visually spellbinding.

Andrea Gronvall: Maybe only those who have lived through so much trauma, destruction, and reconstruction have the innate ability—or willingness—to self-immolate on the altar of undying love. Knowing firsthand how the fallout of l'amour fou can impact innocent bystanders, Pawlikowski is not positioning his Cold War protagonists as role models. What the film is doing is recognizing their indelible life force and originality; it's a cri de coeur hurled toward an increasingly hidebound and emotionally stunted era of Western civilization, where a word like "passion" can be reduced to a watered-down cliche, useful only for commodification.

Sherilyn Connelly: Film history would be largely nonexistent if not for stories of age-inappropriate love affairs, but thankfully, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War veers away from being a Call Me by Your Name-esque “grown-ass man wants to fuck a teen” story. Zula (Joanna Kulig) is a provincial woman with an excellent singing voice in 1949 Poland, and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is a traveling musician tasked by the State with assembling a touring folk ensemble. The picture follows their mostly off-again romance through 1964 as they try to make their incompatible lives and personalities as compatible as possible in Iron Curtain-era Europe.

Though Zula is visually coded as a teenager at first, she gets to age and grow and have a full life that isn’t entirely defined by Wiktor, even if they keep falling into each other’s orbits, usually in musical contexts. The diegetic music, whether in Paris jazz clubs or movie scoring sessions, expresses the emotions they’re never quite able to, or at least not as destructively. Like Pawlikowski’s previous work Ida, this picture feels like a film out of time, shot in glorious black-and-white with a steady camera and careful compositions — and while Cold War only barely passes the Bechdel Test, a line like “I love you, but I have to puke now” erases a multitude of sins.

posted by Carillon (5 comments total)
I loved Ida and was expecting to fall head over heels for this one as well. I really enjoyed a lot about it but because I didn't really buy into their love at first, everything else was beautiful but lacked the heart I needed to take it to the next level. Certainly beautifully shot and realized though, that opening is just jaw dropping.
posted by Carillon at 9:41 AM on April 11, 2019

Hard to get excessively invested in a romance between a teacher and a profoundly sexually traumatized teenage student. I found her character interesting, but dudes like that are, as they say, plentiful and low-value.
posted by praemunire at 8:56 PM on April 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

That's such a great point and I feel like a jerk for not making that connection in my head.
posted by Carillon at 9:16 PM on April 11, 2019

It might have bothered me a bit less had they not made it so clear that he knew she was an incest survivor before approaching her.
posted by praemunire at 8:21 AM on April 12, 2019

I wanted to like this so much more than I did. I just didn't buy the main relationship as something intense enough to want to risk your life for or ultimately end it for
posted by octothorpe at 6:57 PM on April 12, 2019

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