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Cold War

September 29, 2018

Cold War (2017)
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Actors: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc

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Synopsis: Polish folk singer-dancer, Zula (Joanna Kulig), and the director-arranger of her many of her musical pieces, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), embark on a tempestuous romance in postwar Poland. As the country slips into its communist, pro-Stalinist ways, professional and national fault-lines emerge in the relationship, taking the two lovers and, at times, splitting them across time and different corners of the European continent over the subsequent decade.

Review: Filmed in a pictorially seductive monochrome palette and featuring a solemnly earnest narrative about Europe as a postwar ideological battleground that drives a tragic wedge between two Polish lovers in the opening decade of the Cold War (the title is used as much metaphorically), the only thing that affects Cold War‘s import is a certain aesthetic inertness and a sense that the politics of the drama are too neatly calibrated.

Pawel Pawlikowski is a bit of a directorial chameleon, but, as I noted with a recent retrospective piece on his excellent My Summer of Love, he is very much a filmmaker who thinks his stories through visually. While this creates a suitably stark palette for Cold War in keeping with the increasingly spartan emotional terrain the two lovers must traverse across Europe for their relationship to survive, it betrays perhaps the film’s overemphasis on aesthetics to the detriment of a justifiable dramaturgy.

Coming in at a lean 82 minutes, and featuring multiple dramatic ellipses across a 12 year narrative chronology, it soon feels as if Pawlikowski is compelling his two lovers on a sadistic and slightly contrived trajectory to end-gain the moral of the story which is that corrosive politics destroys lives. While unquestionably a viable thesis for a film, Pawlikowski’s narrative doesn’t justify those designs. In particular, the characters often have quite unsympathetic, angsty bourgeois lifestyles and purposely choose paths that are antithetical to the love they purportedly have for each other so that they can reach the clever and pretty, but unearned, conclusion. (September 2018)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Michael permalink
    January 19, 2019 9:48 pm

    This is one of the few reviews I’ve been able to find that’s not ecstatically fawning—perplexing to me how a pleasant film has garnered so much unwarranted praise honestly.

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