Original Name: Zimna Wojna
Director: Paweł Pawlikowski
Runtime: 85 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6543652/
“Time doesn’t matter when you’re in love”
I can’t think of the more appropriate title for this movie than Cold War, both as a specific era our two leads live in, and as their romance themselves, which span over the course of 15 years through many countries. Inspired by Pawel Pawlikowski’s own parents’ tale, with the same style of his previous sleeper hit Ida (the film in which I am very fond of), Cold War still stands out as its own and proves as a worthy addition to his already impressive filmography. At the heart of the story is Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig), whose first met in the talent-scouting for the traditional folk troupe. It’s a minimalist storytelling, in a way that their encounters feel like notepads where we have to fill in the details the filmmaker purposely left out, and in its presentation where there’s always clear black and white shots, with gorgeous details and their facial expressions that speak more powerful than any word can convey. The soundtrack is jazzy (since they are jazz artists) and more often than not those onscreen soundtracks speak well to the state of individual character.
At first, I mistook this film as an anti-romance, but in truth, this is a romance story of broken people in the broken country of the broken era. The sort of self-destructive, star-crossed romance to begin with. Doomed without each other. Doomed when staying together. Their time spending together is always brief and often it gets harder and harder to reach each other, yet their love shines mostly through those brief sparks, those fleeting moments. Wiktor defects out of Poland for Paris, while Zula stays behind their folk troupe. Betrayal and sometimes violent when being together, and throughout the in-between time of their encounters, they live their own lives, have their own partners and survive the best way they know how. The only thing that keep them together, the only thing that they’re both sure of, is their love for each other. “I was with the love of my life”, proclaimed by Wiktor to his Paris partner about his brief meeting with Zula in Paris. They both carry this burden of love. And indeed, while they change over the course of 15 years, their faces get more seasoned as years go by, it’s the haunting look in their eyes whenever they meet that remains the same. It’s the desire to be together that somehow becomes their blessing, as well as their curse.
And then there is the Cold War in the settings. It’s the era where artistic freedom expression is almost equal to propaganda message, where in order to move up the ladder you would need to build good relationships (well, the latter is still relevant now), where defect the country means you have no way to go back. This is the difficult era these people live in. Who could blame either Zula or Wiktor for doing what they did? Both Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig command their screens marvelously, and the crisp black and white photography, clean editing, simple but skillful cinematography and solid jazzy soundtrack make Cold War a top-notch production all around. Minimalist in style, emotionally distant in tone, Cold War tells a seemingly simple tragic love story, but it’s anything but simple. I’m about to use the word “bittersweet” love story here, but in truth it’s bitter all the way. The only sweet part out of this story is that they know that they love each other and they want to be together at all cost, even at the cost of their individual self, and maybe, just maybe, it justifies everything else.