Cold War Joanna KuligYear: 2018
Director(s): Pawel Pawlikowski
Writer(s): Pawel Pawlikowski, Janusz Glowacki, Piotr Borkowski
Region of Origin: Poland, France, UK
Rating: n/a
Black and White, 85 mins

Synopsis: Two mismatched lovers find love in impossible times. (Source)

People are imperfect and romance is war, but all we can do is the best with what we have. In very loose terms, these are the ideas that line Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War. Deceitfully simple yet immense, Pawlikowski’s latest is a sprawling story that doesn’t treat its romance as a destination, but rather a journey. Set amidst political and personal turmoil and stitched together by evolving songs of heartache and joy, this is a film of extremes. We’re both appalled and saddened by the breadth of what’s on display, but also in love with its romanticism and hope. Replete with passionate performances from Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot, Pawlikowski’s film is a story for the ages, timeless and transcendent.

In 1949 Poland, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza) are attempting to put together an ensemble that will showcase the music and culture of their country. Their motives are pure, wanting only to represent the heart and talent of their people. Amongst those auditioning, is a young woman named Zula (Joanna Kulig). Singing a Russian standard, she immediately captures Wiktor’s attention, despite his colleague thinking that she’s too unrefined. Still, she’s accepted and rises to be one of the troupe’s biggest stars. As the group rises to fame, they’re intercepted by political powers wanting them to sing propaganda in the name of Stalin. By then, Wiktor and Zula have already taken to each other. He proposes that they defect to Berlin after one of their performances. Zula never shows, but this begins a lifelong affair. They’ll continue to weave in and out of each other’s lives as they chase their own disparate dreams and ideals.

Like its jilted lovers, this is a film that we continually fall in love with, no matter how much it breaks our heart. It’s unflinching in the way it grabs our affection, but also raw and real and honest. Spanning 15 years, Pawlikowski has created a modern epic. It’s a melancholic portrait of orbiting souls. They collide and clash throughout time as their relationship takes us from the pastoral outskirts of Poland to the smoky bars of Paris. Needless to say, this is a multi-faceted adventure. It’s thrilling on both a visceral and emotional level. Though this type of period piece may seem old fashioned, it’s genuine and relevant, rendering two lost souls who are each other’s constant. Pawlikowski’s attention to existential stakes, going as far as to make Wiktor and Zula’s shifting political environments a character in itself, gives the tapestry a bittersweet texture that cuts straight to the core.

Cold War review Joanna Kulig Tomasz KotPawlikowski’s intense focus would be nowhere without that of his two leads. As the spirited Zula, Joanna Kulig turns in a transformative role that is infinitely complex. Most of what she does is lined with both happiness and sadness. Oft times she exudes a certain feeling, while feeling another. It’s also worth noting that a series of songs are deeply embedded into her character. With her actual singing voice, Kulig performs these pieces in varying ways throughout, adding a layer of intricacy and nuance that most could never dream of. As Wiktor, Kot is such a fascinating leading man. Dashing and with a smirk that renders us helpless, he’s someone we immediately trust, even if he has some obvious unrest bubbling beneath the surface. Together, Kulig and Kot burn up the screen, and we simply can’t get enough of them.

Cold War is a beautiful confluence of art, song, struggle and resilience. It proves that joy is nothing without sadness, and that somewhere in the middle, lies a fleeting grace we all thirst for. I’m sure that sounds pretty bleak to most, but it’s a sentiment that feels truthful above all else. With his latest film, Pawlikowski commands emotional acuity, transforming a tempestuous relationship into something inescapable. With its rich visuals, an ambitious view of lifelong love and two powerhouse performances, this ilm hooks onto us like the most stubborn melody. We find ourselves humming it over and over just to relive it over again.