Warmly received at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Cold War is a fascinating watch. Simultaneously densely packed and terrifically paced the film spans two decades as it tells of the romantic entanglement between singer Zula and pianist Wiktor. Beginning in provisional
There is so much to deconstruct in Cold War. One could watch the film and just focus on the history of post-war music the film presents. Then there is the enthralling dynamic between East and West and the film's relative neutrality on this front. And the film can reward just as much by spotlighting Zula alone. Each shot feels delicately composed and film students will be pouring over them for years to come. Yet with the complexity of the individual scenes, Cold War is also able to make great leaps in time by offering snapshots, with the in-between left as blanks.
The central duo in here, Joanna Kulig and Tomsaz Kot, are fascinating. Kot is an engaging presence, balancing the film's heavier moments with a well-used wry smile. But it is Kulig who lingers after the film reaches its beguiling climax. Where Cold War refreshes is in presenting a morally complicated woman who is not punished for her indiscretions. And Kulig is particularly hypnotic as Zula, her performance becoming increasingly heartbreaking. Cold War is all about this central duo, meaning appealing characters flit in and out of the picture, rarely gaining the focus they may have in another film. With Cold War's final dedication to the director's parents, this makes sense and gives it a focus through the shifting events around this couple.
Director Pawel Pawlikowski (whose last film, Ida, won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) continues to mark himself as one of the most confident directors currently producing films. And Cold War is a gorgeous addition to his body of work, stunningly shot by Lukasz Zal in crisp, sumptuous black and white, and presented in the Academy-preferred ratio of 1.375:1. This gives the film a height that makes several shots, particularly in the early snowbound scenes, haunting. On a technical level I wouldn't be surprised if Cold War breaks the foreign language barrier and finds itself with a raft of nominations at next year's Oscars.
Cold War is a wonderful paradox of a film. It is weighty and dense, sprawling across two decades and several European nations. And yet it is also breezily-paced, with a lightness of touch that marks it a particularly rewarding watch. And Joanna Kulig is a fascinating presence, playing a refreshingly complicated character.