Cold War (2018)
Cold War (2018)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.

Release Date: December 21st, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski Actors: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Kahn, Jeanne Balibar, Anna Zagorska




ar-piercing bagpipe music (which is enough to inspire dogs in the background to bark) opens “Cold War,” which proceeds to show accordions, fiddles, various percussion instruments, and plenty of singing (in several languages). The camera cuts around between numerous groups of people, each comforting themselves with the gaiety of upbeat tunes. It’s 1949 in Poland, where a caravan of trucks pulls up to a stately home; inside, auditions take place, allowing young performers to attempt to win a spot as a representative for their country on the world stage.

Zula (Joanna Kulig), who is rumored to have killed her father and spent time for the deed, catches the eye of conductor Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot), who believes the candidate possesses an energy and spirit that the other, debatably more talented girls don’t have. Fellow instructor Irena (Agata Kulesza) isn’t immediately convinced, but it’s not long (transitioning to 1951) before the best of the bunch are practicing song and dance routines, donning costumes, and being bussed to Warsaw for renditions in front of massive crowds. After one such concert, the minister in charge suggests that the folk art ensemble should be shifted toward themes of land reform and world peace – patriotic numbers to celebrate the Fatherland. Administrative Manager Kaczmarek Lech (Borys Szyc) is in full support of this idea, though Wiktor and Irena can feel the encroaching nationalism that could corrupt the beauty and authenticity of traditional music.

By 1952, as the troupe performs in East Berlin for the International Festival of Youth, Wiktor and Zula are madly in love. They plot to flee to France, where they can begin anew, free of the watchful eye of communist leaders. But, as with many such love stories set amidst times of political turmoil, not everything goes according to plan.

With a relatively short running time, years skip past, leaving the lovers apart for uncomfortable spells. But true love knows no bounds; even as locations change, new relationships build, and careers shift, nothing can separate them forever. The premise is sweet and simple, matched by crisp black-and-white photography – its beauty continually fighting against the looming dangers and implications of the historical tumult.

Quite artistically, emotions are predominantly conveyed through singing, or reactions to such exhibitions, dispensing with lengthy expositions concerning what has transpired in between Wiktor and Zula’s temporary divorcements. It’s enough to know that, deep down, they’re each waiting for the other; they’re conserving genuine love only for their interludial reunions. And the longer their breaks, the more potent their reconciliations (as well as their spats). “Time doesn’t matter when you’re in love.”

Another fascinating element of “Cold War” is its acknowledgement of not only a wealth of musical styles in different countries, but also the transitions in genres throughout the ’50s and ’60s. The abundance of music dictates moods and actions, portraying distinct veers from bliss to sadness and back again – which parallels the lead couple being pulled apart repeatedly. It also mirrors Wiktor’s struggles with a national identity, as he’s branded a traitor to Poland, an unofficial resident of France, and even a spy for the British. Throughout the years, many of which are terribly unkind to Wiktor and Zula, the only thing that remains consistent is their love; it’s alternately heartbreaking and joyous, incomplex yet stunningly powerful, following the path of something like “Doctor Zhivago” (or “The English Patient”), but trimmed down to the utmost minimalist elements of sex and romance. “Cold War” actually could have been a touch longer, to detail a bit more of the characters’ predicaments, yet its fast pace, coupled with its use of history as an intermittent backdrop to love, is strangely, hauntingly unique.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10