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Cold War (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Cold War

COLD WAR (2018)

Starring Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cédric Kahn, Jeanne Balibar, Adam Woronowicz, Adam Ferency, Drazen Sivak, Slavko Sobin, Aloïse Sauvage, Adam Szyszkowski, Anna Zagórska, Tomasz Markiewicz, Izabela Andrzejak, Kamila Borowska, Katarzyna Ciemniejewska and Joanna Depczynska.

Screenplay by Pawel Pawlikowski and Janusz Glowacki.

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 88 minutes. Rated R.

Screened at the 2018 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Cold War is an apt title for this film. This is not just because it takes place in Eastern Europe in the 15 years following World War II during the rise of Soviet-western tensions. It is also because this long-ranging story of an affair between an older pianist and music conductor with a young, beautiful-but-angry singer, is about the chilliest romance I’ve seen in a long time.

Honestly, it’s more of an anti-love story, a dysfunctional look at two mis-matched souls who circle in and out of each other’s constellations for years, hurting each other (particularly her hurting him, but he takes his share of shots, too) and fighting more than they ever bring each other solace or joy.

All of this is shown with the backdrop of war and political upheaval. Shot in moody black and white, Cold War is a fascinating, if somewhat frustrating experience.

Wictor and Zula (Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig) meet when he is conducting a women’s vocal choir in Poland soon after World War II and she is an aspiring singer with a dark past who wants to join. Wictor is immediately drawn to Zula’s charisma – both as a gorgeous woman and also as an oddly charismatic performer – and quickly they fall into a torrid affair.

However, particularly on her part, the relationship seems to be more about sex and advancement than true love. He imagines he loves her, but what he is feeling seems to be more passion and lust than true love. When the Russians sort of co-opt the choir and make them perform songs about Stalin as propaganda, Wictor decides to move to Paris to become a jazz pianist. He begs her to join him and she agrees, but never shows.

Throughout the rest of the movie, they pop in and out of each others’ lives, often while with other lovers (again, particularly her), trying to work out a relationship which is mostly built upon fighting and hurting each other.

Towards the end, it is hard to believe they even like each other, much less love each other. However, almost like an addiction, they cannot completely let each other go.

The climax, which obviously I will not describe here, is completely inscrutable. You can’t for the life of you figure out what either character’s motivation is to make such a dramatic personal decision. Of course, you could say the same about pretty much all of the running time of Cold War, which makes the movie both mesmerizing and exasperating at the same time.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: October 22, 2018.

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