Acclaimed Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski follow up to his exceptional, Oscar-winning “Ida” is a step backwards from its predecessor, but it still offers a lot of engaging and impressive moments that makes it a radiant work of art. Set mostly during the height of the Cold War in Europe during the 1950’s, the film opens with , Wiktor (Tomaz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza) who are holding auditions for their cross country folk tour.
During auditions, Wiktor is instantly drawn into the beauty and talent of gorgeous singer Zula (Joanna Kulig), in which they fall in love, and form a relationship that ends with break-ups and re-connections during the course of a decade. The film takes place during long stretches of time where you almost wish Pawlikowski would have slowed the film down, and explored more of the sociology, and political turmoil Communism and the Soviet Union had created around Europe at the time. A longer, more epic in scope variation of the film would have made the film grandeur and ultimately more triumphant and rewarding.
These conventions are tossed away, instead Pawliwski is more interested in exploring and capturing the love story between it’s two leads trapped in turbulent times (perhaps based on Pawlikowski’s own parents). Where the history along with the ravishing black-and-white chromatic cinematography seemed to serve the environment, here just feels more polished and gorgeous.
With a tight and well paced 89 minute running time, Cold War could have been something greater, something more bold like Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma”, which is also a personal exploration of a specific time and place of the artists memory, psyche, and soul. However, by focusing less on the history and politics, Pawlikowski uses interludes to make his material as serviceable as possible to the parents that raised him, and that is commendable.
The film uses music serve as the backdrop to build the conflict, drama, and themes. Whether its the folk chorals, to the snappy jazz, or the energetic rock & roll of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” that allows Zula to leash out her anxieties and anguish from the suppressed turmoil Wictor is creating on her as she flirts and dances with other men in front of him. There are many great moments where Kulig just shines, and her performance is filled with a lot of nuance and layers. She is absolutely radiant each time she performs a song in the film.
What happens during the course of characters break-ups certainly lures you in with it’s emotion and impact, the cinematography by Lukaza Zal brings a lot of intensity, and one can’t deny how personal the film is. What we get is a striking and compelling love story that is both sexy and fierce, while being delicate.