Pawel Pawlikowski’s COLD WAR is one of those films that you can respect but not outright love. Beautifully made but far more slight and bleaker than expected, the film features a fantastic central performance and a narrative that may appeal to European crowds and arthouse film lovers who fall for bleak films such as this one.
The story is quite simple, which is a plus given that the film is only 84 minutes long and rarely drags. Two lovers, Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) on the backdrop of the cold war, come together, separate and return once again to each other and in between those separations and returns we see the complexity of human emotion. If only if that complexity was better explored or made a tad more believable. While the performances are strong, the characters are somewhat underwritten, as if they are vehicles to depict a singular idea of despair and agony rather than believable plot devices that work in the bigger context.
One of the film’s strongest elements is the luminous Joanna Kulig. As Zula, she embodies the character’s ambition and strength in fantastic and unexpected ways and delivers her musical numbers wonderfully. The film’s musical atmosphere makes the character both an acting and singing showcase and Kulig excels in both. Resembling Jennifer Lawrence in her early career, Kulig is certainly a talent to watch out for. As Wiktor, Tomasz Kot isn’t given much to do, with his character mostly reacting to Kulig.
Technically, however, the film is marvelous, with lush monochrome cinematography and a pleasing, attractive soundtrack. Pawlikowski makes excellent use of frames and positions his characters elegantly. His editing choice of showing us separate chapters in the context of a 10-year relationship between Zula and Wiktor partly pays off: it creates a fast-paced narrative but leaves several questions unanswered, motives unexplained and narrative gaps that could have been fleshed out to engage mainstream audiences.
Verdict: COLD WAR is well made but not for everyone. Aesthetically pleasing but may leave some viewers wanting for more on a narrative level.
Cold War will be released in the US by Amazon Studios later this year.