REVIEW: Cold War (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Kino Swiat

The following is a review of Cold War (‘Zimna wojna‘) — Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.

Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War for three Oscars including Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film. The day before last, I finally got to see the European Film Awards-darling, and, today, I’m ready with a review of one of the best films not in the English Language from 2018.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is reportedly inspired by the director’s parents’ own messy love story. The film follows a politically disillusioned pianist, Wiktor (played by Tomasz Kot), in post-war communist Poland, who falls for a young singer, Zula (played by Joanna Kulig), in the late 1940s. The film then traces their heartbreaking rollercoaster-ride of a relationship from the late 1940s to the 1960s. From Poland to Paris and back again, this is a story of tortured lovers risking it all to be in each other’s arms once more.

It is a boxed-in 4:3 black-and-white film about star-crossed lovers in a politically-divided era where one wrong move could wreck your life, and where true love didn’t wait for you in one piece. It reminded me of a certain Shakespeare play. However, when the two central characters would reunite over the years in various European cities, the film reminded me a lot of Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, but, especially, Before Sunset and Before Midnight.

More than anything else, though, it reminded me of La La Land — one of my favorite films of the last few years — if La La Land took place in 20th Century post-war Europe. Though some would say La La Land already has a very depressing ending, it is nowhere near as bleak as the steely cold outlook of Pawlikowski’s Cold War. While I personally prefer the American musical I liken it to, I will forever remember Pawlikowski’s Cold War as a much bleaker companion piece. Though, of course, it is much more than that.

It is an achingly beautiful and truly haunting film, which features these stunning black-and-white images, that comes alive when it rests on Kot and Kulig, and especially the latter. Joanna Kulig is the star of the picture. Her scenes at the L’Eclipse jazz club are, perhaps except for the film’s ending, the most memorable scenes from the film. Kulig is especially mesmerizing here when she is singing longingly, and energetic when she dances wildly by herself. You won’t be able to take your eyes off her, which makes it easy to understand exactly what it is that Wiktor falls for in Zula. We don’t get as much out of Tomasz Kot or his reserved character, which I think was a shame, but he does a good job with what he is given.

My problem with the film, though it certainly makes it easier to rewatch, has to do with how stripped and cut-down the film is. Though I enjoyed how short it was, I think it is certainly fair to say that it feels rushed. I suspect those that dislike the film will say that it has been ‘cut within an inch of its life.’ The film jumps from year-to-year and location-to-location wildly and abruptly, which was without a doubt my biggest problem with a film that is otherwise beautiful but bleak and thoughtful without being condescending or heavy-handed. Nothing is dumbed down or over-explained, and, honestly, I’m not sure anything needed to be.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is, indeed, a film that will chill the hearts of its viewers due to the tragic and heartbreakingly rough journey of love these hapless lovers endure over the course of the film’s barely 90 minute runtime. The battle for love in a politically divided continent is presented like a haunting memory in this likely unforgettable film about an ill-fated romance and a decades-long struggle for the freedom we imagine a sought-after love will grant us. Small gains and massive sacrifices come to define Pawlikowski’s tragic post-war romance.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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