Review: Cold War by Pawel Pawlikowski

[From InQuire]

After 5 years of absence, Pawel Pawlikowski returns to the big screens with the beautiful ‘Cold War’. The film takes place in post-WW2 Poland under the Soviet regime and is loosely inspired by the relationship between the director’s parents. The two, according to Pawlowski, is “the most interesting dramatic characters I’ve ever come across … both strong, wonderful people, but as a couple a never-ending disaster”. An ambitious pianist and composer Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza) are putting together a big band ensemble ‘Mazurek’ out of talented young people from the rural areas. They are gathering them to perform traditional Polish folk songs and dances. One of the candidates, mysterious Zula (Joanna Kulig) catches Wiktor’s eye. Zula is ambitious, cunning, and beautiful which makes it easy for her to get what she wants from life. The central characters engage in a passionate life-long romance with various ups and downs, break-ups and come-backs, journeys and returns.

Although the plot might sound like a cliché the film is a true masterpiece. The story is told with earnest attention to details, with subtle moments and gestures, scenes full of emotions and passion. Although the film is centred around the relationship of Wiktor and Zula, the overall theme is freedom in divided Europe. After the war Poland  was devastated by the Nazi and Soviet armies which used the land as their battlefield. The authoritarian government tries to gain favour in the rural areas by investing in folk culture and lifestyle. In return, Wiktor has to promote the Soviet government although this clashes with his artistic vision. Zula has no freedom to be with whoever she wants as she has escaped prison by being a minister’s favourite. When a chance comes Wiktor plans an escape beyond the iron wall but Zula hesitates. The life of a foreigner has also its limitations. The two have to fit into the expectations of the elite and live with a feeling of being constantly at someone’s mercy. They both struggle to be happy as their expectations clash with the harsh reality.

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