Cold War, Warm Reception.
A cold but deeply romantic monochrome masterpiece by director Paweł Pawlikowski, Cold War follows struggling musicians Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) on their journey from poverty in Poland to the jazz clubs of Paris and many more, all the while losing and finding each other and struggling through many ups and downs set upon them.
Pawlikowski’s stylistic grip on every frame of Cold War is masterful; beautiful and stylish, working in tandem with cinematographer Łukasz Żal, every shot evokes the wisdom a thousand film classes of how to make a pretty image relevant to the story. Be it trees looming, Zula peaking from the bottom of the screen, it’s all here and it’s all gorgeous, and never in your face.
It’s not just the visuals that stand out. Pawlikowski’s choice of music plays its notes perfectly, every song signalling a distinct change in the two musician’s journey, be it homely (the folksy choir stylings of war-torn Poland) or melancholy (The slow rhythm of Paris).
The story is equally poignant, gripping and uniquely presented. While Zula and Wiktor may indeed love each other, the circumstances of escaping 1940’s Poland to bigger and, hopefully, better things weighs on them very much. They go years without seeing each other, but the passion always remains, albeit in a quiet, understated manner. But they’re not always lovey-dovey, no sir.
Kulig and Kot do wonders with their roles, always maintaining a mask of subtlety, which only serves to hide their feelings from the world, never slapping the audience in the face with just how in love they are, a-la nearly every romance known to man. A good number of times, they argue, fight, and get drunk, their belief in one another fluctuating, despite Zula’s preaching “I love you with all my heart”. Less Romeo and Juliet, more a Golden Age Blue Valentine. These aren’t two halves of a whole, they’re two parallel lines, doing their best to keep going in both life and each other, especially when said life offers nothing but obstacles. Love is indeed a cold war.
Pawlikowski has said that the film was intended as a tribute to his parents, in what he called “the ultimate love story”. And a fitting tribute it is, but also a coldly stark love-letter to love itself, in all its dysfunctional glory, and how it’s not always an easy ride. But the ride might be worth it if someone’s with you.