More like lukewarm war.
Synopsis: A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatefully mismatched, set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris. (Mongrel Media)
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, and Agata Kulesza
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski and Janusz Glowacki
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Rating: R (United States)
Running Time: 88mins
Cold War is the second buzz-worthy foreign language film shot exclusively in black and white after Roma. However, the only thing those films have in common are their color palettes and their period setting. While the former is a drama about the power of women, this film is a romance. On first glance, a sub 90 minute running time may seem like its not enough for a film of this type but fortunately, it still manages to pack quite a lot in. Of course there would have to be some sacrifices made and it was those sacrifices (for the lack of a better word) that hold it back from being something more.
Loosely inspired by the lives of Pawlikowski’s parents, the story was about a young singer named Zula (Kulig) and a musical director named Wiktor (Kot) set against the Cold War in Europe from the late 1940s to the 1960s. Told over several decades, the chronicles the couple’s complicated relationship and how it was affected by the ever-changing political climate, seeing them fall in and out of love while always seeming to find each other. As mentioned, the film had to make sacrifices and this was where those sacrifices were felt the most. The film arguably rushed in guiding these character across time took away any context for the characters.
Zula and Wiktor were clearly in love but it was ultimately tough to connect with them on an emotional level that was needed to fully buy in to their love story. Both characters felt more on the thin side for the most part. Despite this, both characters were still somewhat fun to watch through the several stages of each other’s lives. With Zula being a singer and Wiktor being a musical director, music would play a large role in the film. There were plenty of musical sequences in the film in the form of musical numbers or just Zula singing in either Polish or French (if it was really her, Kulig is an amazing singer BTW).
Ultimately, the most memorable thing about the film was its black and white color palette. While perhaps not at the level of Roma, the colors still find a way to pop here. Because of its character-centric focus, the cinematography was mostly limited. However, the 4:3 presentation along with the contrast within the black and white and the camera work were both something to behold. Also, the film’s rather abrupt ending may rub some people the wrong way.
Despite the inconsistent story, the best part of the film was its performances, specifically those of Kulig and Kot as Zula and Wiktor respectively. Zula may not have been the easiest character to connect with but Kulig’s performance was great. Singing aside, she was compelling to watch while commanding the screen as the strong-willed singer. Wiktor was the less interesting to character of the two, however, Kot showed flashes of brilliance alongside Kulig’s Zula between looking lost.
Overall, Cold War was a decent film that manages to fit a beautiful and compelling enough romance within it’s short running time but with that short running time left some much needed character development off the table and will leave viewers wanting more while also creating an emotional disconnect with the characters despite the acting. Still a worthy foreign language film contender.