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Review: ‘Cold War’ doesn’t need colour to convey its passion (Includes first-hand account)

They say love is blind, which is why so many people can find themselves in complicated or even impossible relationships. At some point your head attempts to reason with your heart and occasionally it succeeds. On the other hand, sometimes logic and practicality overrule love entirely, and choices are made based on the most pragmatic option instead of the happiest. Outside influences and circumstances often play a significant role in such decisions. In Cold War, a couple constantly finds themselves drawn together and then pulled apart again over more than a decade.

After WWII, there was an unsurprising emphasis in countries to try to preserve their cultural history. In Poland, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) works with a dance school to recruit local women for a folk program that centres on customary dance and songs. Zula (Joanna Kulig) has a lovely voice and obvious baggage, but the former outweighs the latter… though the latter’s effect on her individuality captures Wiktor’s attentions. In the meantime, Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc), their assigned state official, defies the spirit of the program to please government officials and turn a profit. As things grow more complicated, Wiktor and Zula decide to runaway together. But a series of circumstances have them popping in and out of each other’s lives for the next 15 years.

This is a love story, but it’s rarely romantic and far from blissful. Zula is strong-minded, which causes her to choose the practical option over the idealistic one most of the time. Conversely, Wiktor is consumed by his love for her and risks everything for a chance at happiness. The differences in their perspectives create an insurmountable gap between them that shrinks and expands, but never seems to close. Their affair which begins in Poland travels to Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris before returning to their homeland. Divided by politics, the pair can never find equal ground. But even as they build relationships with other people, the fire in their hearts that burn for each other is never truly extinguished.

Pawel Pawlikowski directs Poland’s 2019 Oscar entry, having won best foreign language film in 2015 for Ida. In addition to being nominated in that category again, the film also receives deserved nods for best cinematography (Lukasz Zal) and director. Once again, the pair constructs a stunning black-and-white feature that uses the stark contrasts and absence of colour as well as anyone working with a full palette to convey the troubled passion of this complex couple. Moreover, Wiktor and Zula are actually the names the filmmaker’s parents as the film is loosely based on their on-again-off-again relationship that unfolded on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Kot and Kulig are incredible as the turbulent couple. Each time they’re reunited, the effects of the experiences they’ve had while apart are evident — but so is their devotion to each other. There’s never a moment where they throw caution to the wind and give in to their desires — they live in a real and sometimes dangerous world in which that’s impossible. Kulig’s cool demeanour is a striking contrast to Kot’s idealism, yet the impression that they’re meant to be together never wavers.

This unconventional love story captivates audiences with its nearly square frame and conflicted romance that is amazingly contained to less than 90 minutes without missing a beat or feeling rushed. It should be obvious Pawlikowski is a director film lovers should continue to follow.

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Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot and Borys Szyc

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