Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest film, has just been nominated for three Oscars. It is up for Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign-Language Film. Quite frankly, these nominations are extremely well-deserved. Cold War dives into the romance between Zula and Wiktor, two musicians living in Poland during the Cold War. But the story that follows is not that of a typical romance film. It is a muted, minimalist tale of love coming together, but more importantly, love being torn apart.
Immediately, Pawlikowski treats the viewer to not only stunning black and white, but an aspect ratio of 4:3. This allows the audience to focus more on the characters as they travel from country to country throughout two decades. Most of the still shots allow for a beautiful look at all the different landscapes on display. However, it is very rare that the establishing shots are not interrupted by our lovers coming into frame. Make no mistake; this is a film that is tightly crafted in both technical merit and runtime. Unfortunately, this is where one of its problems seems to lie.
Cold War clocks in at just under 90 minutes. In that time, Pawlikowski highlights a period from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. The film churns through this era fairly quickly, and the basis of the relationship suffers because of it. One can’t help but desire more out of the film, perhaps by a slightly extended runtime. For example, the crux of the film is the relationship between Wiktor and Zula, yet it is never fully revealed just what makes them such lovers. There is a brief example upon their first meeting, but it leaves viewers yearning for more. As the film progresses through their lives, it is evident they are madly in love, yet it seems more-so due to the necessity of the plot, rather than the organic building of a relationship. Nevertheless, the romance feels cohesive and natural by the poetically abrupt finale.
The relationship on display would not work without the two incredible lead performances. Joanna Kulig as Zula, who also stars in Pawlikowski’s previous film Ida, seems to hold such pain behind her eyes. Craving a life that is just out of reach, Kulig exemplifies heartbreak and contentment wonderfully. On the other hand, Tomasz Kot portrays Wiktor in an incredibly distinct fashion. Wiktor is not a man of many words, yet words are not necessary. The range of emotions he showcases out of pure physical performance is more than enough. Whenever moments are shared between these characters, it’s difficult not to become lost in their gaze for one another.
Perhaps the most terrific aspect of Cold War is its use of music. One could argue the film takes a minimalist approach in every facet except its sound. Full of bombastic musical notes, beautiful singing, and some wonderful dance numbers, the music brings the film to life. It is the sole thread that connects the characters and their lives across borders. It encapsulates the essence of their relationship. The song entitled “Dwa Serduszka” perfectly exemplifies the struggle of this love that seems unable to exist peacefully. It is repeated a few times within the film, and each performance brings forward deeper context to the anguish behind its lyrics.
It’s very challenging to craft a film that handles romance in such a way. The entirety of Cold War begs the question whether or not love is for better or for worse. The lines become so blurred by the conclusion, yet this seems to be Pawlikowski’s intention. The film is dedicated to his parents, and due to it being loosely based off their lives, one can assume the love is worth it, no matter the cost. Cold War is expertly made and all parties involved clearly had a vice grip on exactly the type of story they wanted to tell. In reality, love is not entirely peaceful. There are struggles that reside within, yet these often reap the best reward, and Pawlikowski did a fantastic job at demonstrating this.
Do you agree with the Oscar nominations for Cold War? Do you believe it deserves any others? Let us know in the comments below!
Cold War is currently playing in select theaters.