Cold War Film Review
It’s black and white, it’s atmospheric, the Cold War component is pervasive – but the movie is ostensibly a love story.
It’s the story of a love which spans the push of communism into a country already devastated by WWII. Its people show a strong survival instinct most likely from being occupied by one oppressor to another – Germany to Russia – and not able to enjoy their own independence. They have a strong national identity but it has become warped through multiple conquests.
Cold War is beautifully shot, and its black and white treatment gives it a film noir flavour in parts. The noir of the movie is more the cinematic style rather than the story narrative. Director Pawel Pawlikowski has created a beautifully captured love story set against Poland’s descent into a Cold War theatre. As Poland emerges from German occupation during WWII, this film begins in1949 where the Communists are starting to make themselves felt through the country’s government agencies. This process starts to take root in the peasant lands, invading their traditional bucolic culture with a new style of farming through an enforced agricultural revolution.
The love story spans the Cold War on many fronts from Poland to Berlin to Paris and Prague. It shows love surviving through each different country’s ability to allow love to live.
Joanne Kulig, who is a musical star in Poland, is Zula. She is hauntingly beautiful and blond and slavic. She is desperate to join the intake of country singers and dancers who occupy a stately home in the Polish countryside and train in the Polish folk traditions to become cultural ambassadors.
Although she is not from the countryside, , she learns to sing the traditional regional songs from others during the audition process. Her beauty and magnetism attract the teacher and bandleader Wiktor who argues her case as he sees something special in her from the first moment he lays eyes on her. It is desire for her as well as an eye for her talent, although it is pointed out by his partner that her voice is not as pure as the others.
The music is important to Cold War. In her first audition Zula sings a love story she knows, it becomes a bit of a theme for the lovers as it is woven through the film. It is sung on stage in the folk shows, and later in a jazz club.
It is not long before Zula and Wiktor become lovers. Their affair is marred when Zula tells Wiktor she is being forced to spy on him. However, he cannot keep away.
The cultural concerts they perform in remind me of those run by Max in The Sound of Music where the Von Trapp Family singers perform. Similarly to The Sound of Music, Viktor begins to tire of the interference by the authorities into the choice of music and being forced to sing odes to Stalin and he begins to think of escaping his homeland.
In 1949, three years before the Berlin wall was erected, people could leave their side of the wall and escape to the other. While performing in East Berlin, Wiktor devises an escape plan with Zula butshe declines to participate.
The next scenes sees them reunited in Paris. Their love is resumed just as before but Paris is a world away from Poland and their love is not the same. Zula does not want to be there. Next they are in Yugoslavia but Zula has a new life and it doesn’t allow for Wiktor – is it Poland only that they are made for?
Wiktor is a musician, he is passionate, more the silent broody type. Zula and Wiktor make a stunning couple. You want to see their love succeed. Their passion is strong.
Their love is centre stage but the background of Cold War is something different. Their love highlights the struggles of the Cold War – the division of Europe, the post-war privations, and politics and the direction in which Eastern Europe was heading.
Director Pawlikowski also wrote Cold War and says the film was inspired by his parents, to whom the film is dedicated.
At the European Film Awards held this month, Cold War won European Film, European Screenplay, European Director for Pawlikowski and European Actress for Joanne Kulig. Pawlikowski also won the Best Director Award at Cannes in May. Kulig is so beautiful that she commands every scene she is in. I couldn’t get enough of her and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.