Review written 10/05/2018.
I have just left the Grand Lumiere Theatre after attending the premiere of Zimna Wodjna – Cold War. My thoughts are flying away from me and all I am left with is absolute revelry. Out of nowhere a moment of luck and kindness granted me a chance to fulfil a lifelong dream, and there I was, walking the red carpet and taking a seat amongst the very people who I have spent a lifetime looking up to and aspiring to join. If ever there was a moment that could really change somebody’s life, this was it for me. And it didn’t disappoint.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is a classic romance, spanning over a decade and taking us on a sonorous journey through the sociopolitical landscape of post-War Poland and crossing the borders into Paris. When composer and conductor Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) first hears young Zula (Joanna Kulig) sing, he knows she is unique… “she has energy, spirit” he opines, transfixed by her voice and, as we come to learn, everything about her. A feisty and fiercely loyal young woman, Zula isn’t one to allow Wiktor’s attention to go unnoticed, and the two embark upon a passionate affair that sees them break the law, break apart, but never lose each other across almost two decades of turbulent times and a changing world.
I won’t divulge more as it would be cruel to, but suffice it to say that the film is utterly captivating and beguiling from the moment it begins with the folk song of passionate Polishmen to the final simple shot that closes the finest symphony of Polish storytelling I have ever witnessed. Kot and Kulig’s chemistry sizzles and spits fire, and the pair have a hunger for one another that is passionate and incredibly sensual; they fight and make love with equal commitment, challenging each other and inspiring each other, never quite besting one another but learning in the end that they never shall and that is just right. Wiktor will “put up with” Zula, drunken antics and crazy actions and all, whilst she concedes she can’t ever be apart from him for all of his fiery temperament and irrationality. They’re both flawed beyond belief, but they typify the notion that two broken halves can still make a beautiful whole. Kot is intense and charming, Kulig vibrant and gorgeous, a throwback to every classic starlet we have ever loved with a fearlessness in her performance that is as shocking to watch as it is a marvel to behold. The supporting cast are all strong with no weak links, but they melt into the background of the boiling pot that is Wiktor and Zula’s romance.
The black and white palette of the film is classic and minimalist, feeling purposeful and showing the mark of an artist who knows his canvas – Pawlikowski is a filmmaker who can write, direct, and shoot with ease, a triple threat with a disarming gentility in his manner and a penchant for tenderness in his work. The landscapes and lounges of Poland and Paris are evoked with a painterly poise, and the theatres are alive and striking even through the monochromatic lens Pawlikowski employs… in fact even more so for it. There are some stereotypical shots of waterfronts and artists’ attic apartment views, but they aren’t overindulgent or obtrusive, they feel right and they capture the breathtaking surroundings in a way I’ve never quite seen before.
My biggest surprise however, going into the film relatively unaware, was the strong thematic presence of music. The lyrics, motifs, score, and soundtrack are cherry-picked from the finest the era has to offer, and I couldn’t help but burst into a grin as a slow bar scene burst into life at the behest of a certain 50s rock’n’roll legend. The music of the film transforms and evolves, moving with the times in a way that reminds you just how much the right score can add to a cinematic experience, and yet it returns to a simple song over and over… times may change, and Wiktor and Zula know that better than most as they toil with the realities of their situation and the state of their nation, forced into uneasy positions at every turn, but through it all their love remains. The records may change but the song remains the same, our lives go through so many seasons and songs, but our greatest loves will always return like a well-remembered song.
The film was excellent, and my experience of it was perfect. A standing ovation greeted its conclusion and it held for a good 5 minutes, the best reaction to a film yet in the hallowed Lumiere I am assured. It is the best of Cannes thus far, and personally, it will forever hold a place in my heart. I was honoured to be present, and what I was presented with was an absolute joy to behold.
Cold War has been picked up by Amazon Studios so keep your eyes peeled for an on-demand release in the future.
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