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