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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Cold War | Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Cold War | Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig | Review

Picture post-war Eastern Europe - full of bleak, stark landscapes, crumbling buildings, and tired, weather-worn interiors, hardly a place to ignite an incendiary romance – or maybe JUST the place.

Writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski (Oscar-winner for Ida - Best Foreign Language Film) shoots Cold War (Zimna Wojna) in black and white, a perfect visual for the oppressed, circumscribed lives forced to operate creatively within the straitjacket of Soviet dominance and scrutiny. The monochromatic scheme imparts a gorgeous, snapshot-like quality at times. Bleak and beautiful all at once, Cold War manages to be a study in opposites, ambivalence, and ultimately, passion.

Think U2’s (Can’t Live) “With or Without You” when you think of the two leads.

Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot), a pianist, scouts talent for his musical project in 1949 post-WWII Poland. Zuzanna "Zula" Lichoń (Joanna Kulig) is a much younger singer who catches his eye during tryouts for a traditional Polish folk-singing group. She’s rumored to have a notorious past. The two embark on a volatile affair that sizzles but is fraught with intimations of doom from the outset.

The two plan to defect, but only Wiktor shows up at the appointed hour. This starts a years-long series of accidental and planned meetings in France, Berlin, and Yugoslavia, weaving through divergent careers, various other lovers, even a marriage. Wiktor and Zula return to each other time after time, a true court-and-spark scenario; they can never seem to make the affair last or commit to each other.

Forlorn settings are given life and depth in the hands of Pawlikowski and form a backdrop for the pair to distill comfort from one another, following the arc of their lives in an attempt to discover a fulfillment that never comes.

Pawlikowski (working with cinematographer Łukasz Żal) fits all of the cyclic evolution into an 89-minute run time, as spare as the surroundings. Scenes of Polish singers and dancers performing in traditional garb are elegantly staged and shot. Light and shadow, opposites like the lead characters, enhance the conflicts and the secrets, not all of them shared.

The climate seems cold and snowy when it’s not overcast and dismal, lending a hopelessness that begs the need for warmth as one explanation for the unlikely couple; they seem perplexed by their need for each other, but not enough to ever refuse a tryst. The hostile political climate of the time adds to the chill as Wiktor suffers an unsettling consequence for his defection.

Kot and Kulig are naturals, bringing a world-weary and tired decadence to their roles.
This is not an American film, so the “boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back” does not play out in the way the audience expects, yet play out it does. The ending is both a surprise and not a surprise.

Cold War is a glimpse of an era shrouded by an impersonal iron curtain while highlighting the constant, sometimes baffling desire for human connection, no matter how disastrous or destructive.

Just try to stay warm.

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