Sunday, October 7, 2018

Fatalistic Love Story

Cold War (2018) - Pawlikowski
Cold War is a tragic, fatalistic love story set in Poland after the second world war. The year is 1949. Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza), two musical enthusiasts are seen traveling and collecting samples of Polish folk music in rural areas. They are two pivotal force behind a newly established Polish State run music school. While auditioning many young, talented pupils, a sultry, troubled girl Zula (Joanna Kulig) catches Wiktor's eyes. It's a school where they train students to be entertainers on stage - involves not only singing but choreographed dancing in traditional garbs. Zula, talented and has a beautiful voice, becomes a star soon enough. And Wiktor and Zula soon become lovers. Now the year is 1952.

Soon the school and its trope becomes a success, the communist regime takes an interest and pressure them to integrate pro-Stalin propaganda songs. Irena objects at first but relents at the Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc), the founder of the school's insistence. But it gives school and Zula an opportunity to travel and perform elsewhere in Europe. While they are performing in Paris, Wiktor suggests Zula that they defect to the west. But Zula fails to show up at the rendez-vous point and they are separated.

Many years passes. Wiktor is now living in Paris, composing and playing piano in a jazz ensemble living in a tiny apartment, like a true bohemian in French movies. After seeing Zula perform with her traveling Polish group on stage in Zagreb, and after forcefully removed and put on a train out of Yugoslavia, they are reunited in Paris. But the whole Paris scene doesn't satisfy Zula. It's too stuck up and Wiktor seems to have lost his mojo in a foreign land - "In Poland, you were a man!" Zula chastises him. After couple of jealousy fueled fights - involving a poet Juliette (Jeanne Balibar) and movie director Michel (French director Cedric Kahn) in Wiktor's circle of artist friends, Zula goes back to Poland. Wiktor, crestfallen, decides to go back to Poland for Zula, risking being jailed as a unpatriotic traitor.

Shot again in full frame monochrome by Lukascz Zal, Cold War is every bit as beautiful as Ida. His use of head space is there and it's lovely. Kulig has a clear and beautiful singing voice in every style, providing some of the loveliest vocal tracks for the films great jazzy soundtrack.

Pawlikowski deftly directs, like his previous film, Ida this 90 minute film in a breeze. But whereas this quick, no moment to spare, no time to contemplate pace worked for a young woman coming of age story, for something like Cold War and the subject like tragic love, I wish the director spent a little more time with Wiktor and especially more with Zula, since Kulig, resembling Slavic Léa Seydoux, is very lovely to look at and listen to. Constant fade to black after pivotal moments in their lives doesn't feel like just times passing or mere transition but more like we've missed out on a lot of details. I understand Pawlikowski's driving idea of 'love has no ideology or borders', but the absence of the couple's political allegiance/aversion as 'artists' bothered me (same way as Ida wearing religion on her sleeve in Ida), especially no background for either of them were ever fully explored. The ending is beautiful but I feel like the rest of the film didn't quite earn it.