“COLD WAR,” A LOVE STORY SPREAD ACROSS 15 YEARS
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.”