The Tribune (SLO) - - Ticket - BY JAKE COYLE

It took “Aqua­man” two and a half hours just to put a fancy tri­dent in its hero’s hands. Pawel Paw­likowski’s lat­est, “Cold War,” fol­lows a doomed ro­mance over 15 years and across much of mid-cen­tury Europe in a mere 88 min­utes. And you’re telling me the guy who can swim fast is the su­per­hero?

In two im­mac­u­late films in a row, Paw­likowski has put count­less film­mak­ers to shame with his dev­as­tat­ing con­ci­sion. In his Os­car-win­ning and sur­prise art­house smash “Ida” and now in “Cold War,” Paw­likowski dis­tills stag­ger­ing amounts of story into aus­tere mono­chrome im­ages so deeply ex­pres­sive you could dive into them.

“Cold War” is a kind of com­pan­ion piece to “Ida.” It’s sim­i­larly set in post­war Poland, shot in pris­tine black-and-white by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Lukasz Zal and has jazz mu­sic drift­ing evoca­tively through it.

Pi­anist Wik­tor Warski (To­masz Kot) is travers­ing the bleak win­ter coun­try­side of Poland in 1949 to record folk mu­sic and hold au­di­tions for a new school of tra­di­tional song and dance. Dur­ing try­outs, one stu­dent stands out to Wik­tor: a strik­ing, sul­try blonde named Zuzanna, or Zula (Joanna Kulig). She doesn’t sing as well as some of the oth­ers but she catches the eye of the im­me­di­ately in­fat­u­ated Wik­tor. The school’s other di­rec­tor dryly notes Zula isn’t the moun­tain girl she pre­tends to be, plus she’s on pa­role for killing her fa­ther.

Wik­tor promptly, in­evitably falls for her and Zula isn’t far be­hind. At first, the per­ilous air of a femme fa­tale hangs over her. While they lie in a field, she pledges her fi­delity to Wik­tor even while con­fess­ing that she’s re­port­ing on him to their com­mu­nist su­per­vi­sors.

With Zula front and cen­ter, the show is a hit, a suc­cess the state quickly co-opts for pro­pa­gan­dist means.

Soon, they are sing­ing com­mu­nist an­thems with an enor­mous cur­tain of Stalin draped be­hind them. While on tour, Wik­tor and Zula re­solve to flee to West Ber­lin, but Zula stands him up. It will be years be­fore they re­unite in Paris.

“Cold War” is ded­i­cated to Paw­likowski’s par­ents, whom the pro­tag­o­nists are loosely based upon. Whereas the year’s other stun­ning black-and­white ex­ca­va­tion of fam­ily past — Al­fonso Cuaron’s “Roma” — is based on Cuaron’s own mem­o­ries, Paw­likowski’s film is less a lit­eral recre­ation. It’s more myth­i­cally drawn, and seen with a weary, back­ward-look­ing res­ig­na­tion.

It’s also an­i­mated by the film­maker’s own po­lit­i­cal strug­gles in Poland.


Wik­tor (To­masz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) ap­pear in a scene from “Cold War.”

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