Film review: ‘COLD WAR’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed”

Anyone who saw Pawel Pawlikowski’s magnificent 2012 film Ida would be eagerly awaiting his latest release, Cold War and they definitely won’t be disappointed. Pawlikowski’s film’s pay obvious homage to new wave Polish cinema of the 1950’s but still have a wonderfully distinct style and tone with their stunning black and white cinematography and exquisite images contrasted with flawed, even depraved human behaviour and references to Polish politics and religion.

Plot-wise, Cold War could almost be described as a Polish arthouse version of A Star Is Born as it traces the tempestuous romance and career trajectory of young singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) and her 30-something musician boyfriend Wiktor (Tomasz Kot).

First meeting in Poland in 1949 when Zula becomes part of a polish folk music troupe, the two take their relationship to Paris, Berlin and back to Poland.   Along the way Wiktor becomes a respected jazz muso while Zula transforms from traditional chorister to smoky jazz chanteuse.

In depicting their odyssey, Pawlikowski shows the fractured face of Europe in the post-war era and the changing face of music from the late 40’s to the early 60’s as traditional cultural sounds give way to jazz and rock’n’roll. This also means the film contains plenty of remarkable music including spine-chilling polish choral numbers.

This is an astonishing looking film, Lukasz Zal’s (Ida, Loving Vincent) cinematography is pristine and evocative and the period detail immaculate. The film is also infused with 50’s cool and often resembles a Jean Luc Goddard film of the era as well as the works of Polish directors like Andrzej Wajda.

The two leads Joanna Kulig as Zula and Tomasz Kot as Wiktor are superb. Both are nuanced, believable and sympathetic without being sentimental. Kulig, in particular, is mesmerising as a harsher incarnation of the era’s platinum blonde divas.

Some may find the fact that the film flits rapidly between times and locations – sometimes only stopping briefly in one place – can make it hard to get a fix on where the characters are; at one point Wiktor is the toast of the Parisienne jazz scene, the next he’s in a Russian gulag. Still, this flitting about between cities appropriately reflects the instability of the characters’ lives and the world at that time.

Given its slightly grim, fragmented story this may not appeal to those seeking a more conventional upbeat plot but those who want cinema to aspire to something beyond fast-food entertainment will rejoice at this majestic film.

Nick’s rating: *****

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Pawel Pawlikowski.

Release date: 26th Dec 2018.

Running time: 88 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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