How far would you go to be with the love of your life? That’s the big question for the two main characters in “Cold War”. This is the latest film from director Pawel Pawlikowski. He helmed 2013’s “Ida”, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film.
“Cold War” is 2018’s Academy Award entry from Poland, and it deserves strong consideration. This is a subtly effective and icy romance set in an unstrung period of history.
The story spans 15 years, beginning in 1949. Wiktor (played by Tomasz Kot) is a freelance musical director, independent both professionally and politically. He’s casting raw Polish singers and dancers for a traveling stage show. The show’s producers are looking to bolster Poland’s patriotic sense following WWII.
Young Zuzanna (Joanna Kulig) has a mysterious past, a passable voice and a captivating aura. She auditions and instantly catches Wiktor’s eye. Early on, Zuzanna asks Wiktor if he’s attracted to her talent… or everything else. Both they (and we) clearly know the answer.
Over the next decade and a half we watch as this couple struggles to keep their relationship alive and their careers afloat, while dealing with the political turmoil of Europe at the time. Borders and barbed-wire barricades that are keeping regular citizens separated cannot prevent Wiktor and Zuzanna from being together. But there’s a price to be paid for their love.
Unlike many American romances that would forcefully reinforce this element, “Cold War” doesn’t sensationalize the threats these two face. The passion Wiktor and Zuzanna (who eventually goes by the stage name “Zulu”) have for each other is palpable, never coming across as overly dramatic.
Pawlikowski’s script is fairly standard, but it allows the work of the two leads and the inspired musical performances to take center stage. A variety of songs and dance sequences are performed by Kulig, her accompanying ensembles and random townspeople cast as extras.
“Cold War” squeezes a sweeping, gritty saga into less than 90 minutes. There is some abrupt editing and a few time jumps, which allow us to fill in the gaps. And Pawilkowski deserves extra credit for making Kot and Kulig actually look 15 years older by the end of the film. This adds to the authenticity – and is another element most American filmmakers simply don’t bother with.
Presented in beautifully stark and symbolic black and white, “Cold War” should not be ignored.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Cold War” gets a B+.
‘Cold War’ opens in select theaters on December 21st. Running Time: 88 min.