Cold War – Review
by Martina Hysi
Paweł Pawlikovski returns with yet another beautiful study in the subtle art of chiaroscuro with Cold War. This time, he presents the eternal archetype of the doomed, star-crossed lovers, separated because of the political rift that divided Europe after WW2. Within the narrow, almost squared frame in which this black and white picture is shot, Pawlikowski offers us a bird’s eye view of our characters as they weave in and out of each-other’s life, often too proud, stubborn or downright stupid to do the right thing. The narrowing frame redefines our understanding of what is happening, alters our perspective and constantly reminds us that we are nothing but intruders, greedily, albeit passively, watching.
This love story is punctuated and defined by art. We initially follow the male lead, Wiktor, in a journey aimed at reclaiming Polish folklore, ingeniously rearranging it into something monumental, something the drunkards and street musicians who shaped it could never imagine. The signature song that haunts the couple throughout the movie is a product of this process, appearing as a choral piece seemingly extracted from a corner of heaven at the onset, then moving into a jazzy lament, before translating into decadent French. The breathtaking soundtrack is an ode to the beautiful but harsh nature of the Polish patrimony.
This celebration of authentic culture is accompanied by a strong undercurrent of political commentary. The transformation, exploitation and consequent artistic demise of Wiktor’s work into Communist propaganda becomes tangible as we watch Pawlikowski guide his camera horizontally across the faces of the performers, plastered in makeup and artificial smiles. This film shows an intimate understanding of how ideology can corrupt culture and presents this viewpoint with simple honesty, without trying to convince us.
Watch this movie. Watch it to be enthralled by Kulig’s face as she delivers her lines as if she is spitting bullets – quiet, powerful and so beautiful. Watch this movie to have your heart broken, or to believe in true love, or to realize that the world is as infinitely cruel as it is magnificent.