Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is a far cry from the muggy atmosphere of his 2004 English-language feature My Summer of Love. As the title suggests, Cold War’s romance takes place in and is defined by winter.
You can feel the wintery chill; tendrils of warm breath play in the air, starkly visible thanks to the super crisp black and white cinematography by Lukasz Zal (who bests his Oscar-nominated work on Pawlikowski’s Ida).
Cold War is as much about sound – exclusively the intradiegetic – as visuals. The opening’s compilation of Polish folk singers also produces a chill. This is transformed to an altogether different sense of chilling when the pure folk tradition is hijacked as Stalinist propaganda – a development that recalls the very differently pitched The Death of Stalin.
This is a brooding epic, broader in scope than Ida yet no less intimate in its characterisation and emotive storytelling. The screenplay weaves seemingly effortlessly through the years and across Europe, triumphantly demonstrating that only minimal exposition is necessary. The dialogue is also austere, yet leading man Tomasz Kot conveys Wiktor’s heavy disdain for the bastardisation of his creative endeavour with his face alone. But it’s Joanna Kulig who steals the film, almost as quickly as her character Zula steals Wiktor’s heart. She brings to Zula the sexy knowingness of Léa Seydoux and the haughty steel of early Jennifer Lawrence, yet there’s no doubt she’s got something all of her own.
It’s certainly romantic, but Cold War is far more than a romance. The sweeping international canvas keeps a political backdrop in its sights, yet this contextualisation is neither intrusive nor allows the slight narrative to become predictable.
Both technically excellent and a masterful tightrope walk of storytelling, Cold War is a bittersweet ode to hope that crystallises much of what makes cinema great.
CAST: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza
DIRECTOR: Pawel Pawlikowski
WRITERS: Pawel Pawlikowski (story), Pawel Pawlikowski (screenplay), Janusz Glowacki (screenplay), Piotr Borkowski (screenplay with the collaboration of)
SYNOPSIS: A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds, set against the background of the Cold War in 1950s Europe.