Polish filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski follows up the Oscar-winning Ida (2016) with an even greater film with far more scope. Using the Cold War as a back-drop for this doomed romance, Cold War depicts as much of the culture and times of Poland and France during this era as it does on its leading lovers.
Dedicated to Pawlikowski’s parents and based on their own lives, Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot) travels around post-war Poland searching for the musically talented in even the most tucked-away corners, trying to find singers who have a fondness for local songs and singing styles. While scouting women to sing and dance in an upcoming performance, he is particularly enamored by Zula (Joanna Kulig) and they begin a romance that is constantly ruptured by the stresses of the Cold War, border issues, and their own personal incompatibilities.
It isn’t exactly a warm romance on display, with plenty of austerity in the passion side of it, but this relationship does work excellently in personifying a divided Europe throughout this era, as well as the cultural changes throughout the 50s and 60s. So much of this changing culture is depicted through the various stage numbers and songs that get performed in various theatres and bars, from Polish folk to jazz to rock and eventually the rather empty and unimpressive salsa.
You may end up more in love with the music than the lovers, and the film likely feels the same way. The look and sound of these musical performances are exceptional, succeeding at bringing the audience right into them with their closeness and loudness, putting heavy emphasis on this form of entertainment during such turbulent political times.
Just like Ida, Cold War is filmed to an inch of its life. The cliché “every frame is a painting” could be applied here, though it’s more “every frame is a photograph”. Each moment is stunningly captured in black and white and in the Academy aspect ratio. Most film teachers will tell you to not use head-room, but copious amounts of head-room is Pawlikowski’s signature technique, showing a great amount of the background whilst still focused on the foreground characters. Cinematographer Łukasz Żal was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Ida and the same better happen with this film.
It’s incredible that Cold War can convey such an epic scope in such a short run-time of 85 minutes, and although it indulges in some very European moments of quiet mood-building, it is a film that doesn’t waste a second. It may be a bit too frosty to make the intimate work, but it uses the intimate to explore a much larger scope of such a historic time.
Cold War plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, January 7 to Sunday, January 13, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, January 15 to Sunday, January 20, 8pm.