Shot in the same inky black-and-white as his haunting, Oscar-winning 2014 import Ida, director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War resembles a waking dream. And a ravishingly romantic one at that.
The film opens in 1949, when a beautiful provincial girl named Zula (the mesmerizing Joanna Kulig) meets a pianist named Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). Zula is auditioning for a Polish performance ensemble that’s bringing rural folk music to the wider world. These peasant songs, like Poland’s dying traditions, are in danger of being lost as the country reels from the aftermath of World War II under Soviet rule. It doesn’t take long for the fiery Zula and the more reserved Wiktor to fall madly in love. But fate — and politics — will soon tear them apart. For a while, at least. Even in exile, these two doomed lovers are too deeply connected to stay apart for long.
Cold War premiered at Cannes back in May and is now Poland’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It deserves to find an audience far beyond the usual art-house circuit (something its financing and distribution by Amazon should help with). What sticks with you about Pawlikowski’s transporting, heartbreaking film — more than its gorgeous monochrome look and the jazzy, smoky torch songs that fuel its second half — is Kulig, who with her tempestuous moods, sensual abandon, and aching melancholy is a rare kind of screen presence. You’d follow her anywhere — and Wiktor does, leading to his own oblivion. Cold War captures what it feels like to be swept up in amour fou, where the only thing more unimaginable than living with someone is living without them. B+
More movie reviews: