City of scars

Could Paweł Paw­likowski’s new darkly comic melo­drama be the art-house La La Land?

Esquire (UK) - - Culture -

Tal­ented pi­anist with a pen­chant for jazz meets plucky young stage star with tal­ent and at­ti­tude to burn. The pair be­gin a flirty, feisty love af­fair, un­til their dif­fer­ing am­bi­tions — the en­er­gies that first at­tracted them to each other — start to pull them apart. Trans­pose the ac­tion from con­tem­po­rary Los An­ge­les to post-war War­saw, Ber­lin and Paris, and the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Os­car-win­ning first-timer di­rec­tor Damien Chazelle’s 2016 com­edy-mu­si­cal

La La Land and Os­car-win­ning leg­end Paweł Paw­likowski’s new melo­drama Cold War, which won him “best di­rec­tor” at Cannes, come to a sharp end.

Shot in stag­ger­ingly beau­ti­ful black and white, Cold War fol­lows the pi­anist Wik­tor (To­masz Kot) as he comes across Zula (Joanna Kulig) — both pic­tured right — while scour­ing ru­ral Poland in search of folk songs on the brink of be­ing for­got­ten, and at­trac­tive young singers who can sing them in fancy con­cert halls. Of course, these at­tempts to pre­serve his bat­tered home­land’s cul­tural her­itage are no­ble, but so too are they at­trac­tive to the com­mu­nist regime, and Wik­tor finds his en­sem­ble per­form­ing un­der ban­ners of Stalin and singing dis­tinctly non­tra­di­tional num­bers about agri­cul­tural re­form.

But Cold War isn’t re­ally about, well, the Cold War, more Wik­tor and Zula’s twist­ing re­la­tion­ship through their own (mostly Zula’s) mad­den­ing knack for neu­ro­sis and self-sab­o­tage. We hop from city to city as they move in and out of each other’s lives, with a blis­ter­ing sound­track, from gut­tural folk songs to loose and louche Parisian jazz, to the pure joy of Bill Ha­ley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”. (And if you ever wanted to know what a Pol­ish samba band might sound like, you’ll get your wish.) Few films man­age to be bleak, gritty and poignant, but also funny, up­lift­ing and ir­rev­er­ent, and come in at un­der 90 min­utes, but Paw­likowski is a master of the medium, and it shows.

Cold War is out on 31 August

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