Four and a half Star Rating

“Artistically creative and texturally sumptuous, Lukasz Zal’s cinematography is quite simply breathtaking…” – Wayward Wolf.

Reading a bit of the blurb surrounding Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, it would seem that this is a film based loosely not on his own experiences, but on those of his mother and father.

Not only were they hopelessly in love, but they were, to all intents and purposes, a bit rubbish at it. Pawlikowski refers to the fact that they seemed all too able to create chaos out of order by way of their poor decision making and general impetuosity; thereby frequently courting romantic disaster.

Set to the backdrop of post-war Poland, Pawlikowski’s film traces the ups and downs of a highly passionate and volatile relationship between two somewhat mismatched lovers: musical impresario, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), and the singer / dancer and all-round apple of his eye, Zula (Joanna Kulig).

Zula is one of the star turns of the Mazurek Ensemble, a musical collective created by Wiktor and his musical business partner, Irena (Agata Kulesza), which seeks, above everything, to preserve the purity of the traditional music of Poland.

This purity is however soon to be compromised by political forces and it’s not long before the ensemble is obliged to espouse all manner of Stalin-esque Soviet propaganda to the wider world, much to the chagrin of Wiktor whose own personal Western ideals and values are in direct opposition to this.

While on tour in East Germany, Wiktor sees an opportunity to escape this autocratic nightmare and conjures up a plan for he and Zula to flee across the border from East to West Berlin. This he believes will allow the couple the best possible opportunity to live a creative life free from the shackles of repressive Communism.

But while Zula is apparently receptive to Wiktor’s idea, to what extent exactly? And what place and role – she secretly ponders – could a young Polish country girl possibly have in such a brave new world?

Pawel Pawlikowski effortlessly combines elements of romance, politics and art here to form an absolutely mesmerising piece, helped in no small way by two wonderful lead performances of quite some stature from Kot and Kulig.

Artistically creative and texturally sumptuous, Lukasz Zal’s cinematography is quite simply breathtaking, and enhanced no end by the decision to shoot in monochrome. This is a choice which accentuates not only the dank unrelenting greyness of a Communist-era Poland, but the brooding smokey cool of the hip 1950’s Parisian jazz scene which Wiktor embraces following his ultimately lone defection from East to West.

Perhaps most impressive of all though is the film’s exquisite soundtrack. From a selection of luscious traditional and jazz arrangements of Polish folk tunes, to an expertly curated selection of classical pieces and rock and roll hits of the time, this is as overwhelming a cinematic sonic experience as I have had in many a year.

Pawlikowski’s film somehow creates the feel of a sprawling three hour epic yet at just 88 minutes in length, this is a lesson to all film makers in achieving maximum impact from what is almost bordering on short-form film making –  in the context of Oscar-nominated major motion pictures, that is.

Above all, Cold War is a wonderfully memorable and immersive tale of promised yet untenable, ill-fated love in unforgiving times, and undoubtedly an award-winner in the making.


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