Cold War (2018)

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Cold War (2018)

Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc

Rated: R

Running Time: 1h 29m

TMM Score: 4 Stars

STRENGTHS: Cinematography

WEAKNESSES: Lack of Emotional Connection


A talented music director and his star performer fall in love but frustrated by Communist controlled Poland’s “requirements” for his art, he and his lover disagree about leaving Poland.

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My Viewing

When the Oscar Nominations get announced it is a gunshot sparking the race to see as many Nominees before the ceremony as possible. Whether it has been the insane weather in Michigan, a family weekend, or work schedules, it just seems that seeing the Nominees has been particularly difficult so I was really looking forward to my viewing of “Cold War.”

Nominated for best Foreign Language Film (Polish) and best Cinematography, there were multiple things about this film that had my interest piqued. More than any other ethnicity, I have a lot of Polish in me so I have always had a soft spot for the sometimes overlooked home country of Kieślowski, Wajda, and Polanski. Cinematically, the stills I saw were gorgeous, black and white, carefully composed, and had a bit of detachment to them that I usually like in film.

Luckily, Grand Rapids, while not a huge film hub, has a strong arts community. We, therefore, get many art house and foreign films which a market our size would usually be unable to justify. As a result, I was able to see Cold War this week, just under the Awards Show wire.

My Thoughts

Well, first off, the cinematography was not underrated. It is incredibly beautiful in a way that American Filmmakers have almost seemed to forget. We live in an era of cinema where color and computer graphics are our main tools for communicating at the theater. We want bigger (IMAX), louder/immersive (Atmos), and flashy/bright/color epileptic seizure inducing displays of digital fireworks.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a movie that blends those things effectively, but there is a simple beauty to a black and white, 4x3 frame. The main thing I see in this sort of film is light. With no color to distract you, the emphasis of the film revolves around areas of light and dark.

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The diffuse soft light of the cold air in winter and a stand of trees gains a mystical quality sometimes as the snow which clings to the dark trunks of trees seems to disappear into the distant fog. The hard light of a night club is seen for what it is, small sliver of light in a darkness that people long to disappear into and can’t seem but help to be consumed by.

“Cold War” uses this light effectively as neither the star of the show nor a simple utilitarian instrument. It communicates an emotion that can’t be portrayed through acting or production design alone.

The story is a classic one. A couple, torn apart by the love that binds them together and the forces of the world which conspire to keep them apart. Honestly, it’s the main weakness of the film. I don’t begrudge it that hard though. It was made by a Polish director and this is his own country’s history and I’m sure there is a reason that that the war torn romance is a classic of literature and cinema. People identify with it.

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In “Cold War,” Zula is a young woman trying out for a Polish Heritage singing and dancing troupe. Wiktor is the director and, upon her first audition, he is intrigued by her. As they work together the troupe gains popularity till the state expresses interest in sponsoring the show. Wiktor doesn’t like the control that the state is exerting over his art so he plots with Zula to escape Communist rule through Berlin.

They agree, but Zula gets cold feet and doesn’t meet him at the rendezvous, opting instead to stay in Poland. The rest of the film revolves around a romance that only finds expression in passing as her career eventually takes her out of Poland and the the two of them reconnect and struggle with life abroad.

“Cold War” isn’t a film for everyone. It’s a little slow and reserved. The passion of their love is very muted, seeming more like  passing interest at times than a fiery love affair and that makes it hard to connect with the characters at times.

Slow Cinema is seeing a bit of a resurgence right now, though, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check out a highly acclaimed movie which exemplifies this style without falling into the trap of a 3 hour runtime as many slow cinema films do.

At a tight hour and a half, there are few people who can’t afford to see something a little outside of their comfort zone. I certainly enjoyed it and more so even as I think about the film and the themes it presents once I left the theater.

Review by: Michael McDonald

Review Written By:

Michael McDonald