Cold War

(Zimna wojna, Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland/France/UK, 2018)


Musician Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) meets and falls in love with a fiery and talented singer, Zula (Joanna Kulig), at an official Polish folk music school in 1949. When, on tour, Wiktor grabs his chance to defect to West Germany, Zula does not join him. By the early 1960s, their tangled relationship has crossed several other countries including Yugoslavia, as well as France during its jazz era.


Pawel Pawlikowski’s follow-up to Ida (2013), again set partly in his native Poland, is a tale of love – indeed, of amour fou – set against the changing tides of communist and capitalist societies. Like the films of Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White, 2018), Cold War compares evolving fashions in musical performance (folk, jazz, pop) with the machinations of opposed ideologies.



The “cold war” indicated by the title is not only a historical epoch, but also a state of perpetual, sombre non-alignment between Zula and Wiktor (intensely played by the principals): they are rarely truly unified in their desires, values, life situations and political affiliations. And yet, an unquenchable, destructive passion keeps hurling them together. In this “crazy love” vein, the film is close to, say, Fatih Akin’s Head-On (2004), and it strikes the same, basic cluster of form-and-content-and-sensibility chords.


Cinematographer Łukasz Żal sets a finely chiselled, black-and-white style that aims to subliminally affect us through the vast “head room” left above the actors in virtually every scene, sometimes every shot. There is something a little too calculated about this, and indeed about everything in Cold War – from its mise en scène moves and glamorously gloomy romanticism, to its resolutely well-targeted arthouse market pitch.


It’s a “popular art movie” that feels made to flatter and please its audiences. I resisted the pitch, but was still inexorably pulled in, intermittently at least, by the moody, fatalistic vibe.


MORE Pawlikowski: My Summer of Love

© Adrian Martin September 2018

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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