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A bar in Paris. He’s talking with a man, while she’s sitting next to them. Bored and drunk. A slow melody changes to ‘Rock Around The Clock’, which makes her shimmy in a crowded nightclub. The energy and passion flows from the screen, as does the renewed faith in the narrative power of cinema in critically acclaimed Cold War by Pawel Pawlikowski.
The monochromatic shots by extremely talented Lukasz Zal (nominated to the Academy Awards for Ida) fit the tone of the film perfectly, since the story is set in the years that follow World War II. Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza), Polish music-aficionados, search devasted-by-war Masovia for traditional folk music. Their motivation: to recruit members of the newly created song and dance group “Mazurek” (inspired by “Mazowsze”, which also performs in the film). This original goal, which is partly driven by their interest in the preservation of the folklore in this depressing post-war reality, is in fact used in the name of propaganda of the newly created Communist government trying to connect with the rural citizens. The beautiful songs then become a tool to deify Stalin and to which Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc), a typical apparatchik administrating “Mazurek”, stamps his feet. But this is also where Wiktor and Zula (Joanna Kulig) meet.
Allegedly she killed her father and was put on probation. Details, details… She has a flirty smile and a voice that must be heard. He has Bogart’s sparkle in his eye. Their great love story is addictive from the very beginning, taking us on an unforgettable journey through post-war Europe, between the East and West with the iron curtain in the middle, from Berlin through Yugoslavia to Paris. However, Cold War shouldn’t be treated as an example of the exact images from the period it presents. Pawlikowski (the Oscar winner for the Best Foreign Language Film for Ida) somehow builds his new masterpiece upon re-imaginings of those times, “shortcuts” and pop cultural references. Hence, in Cold War, East Berlin is snowy and full of guarded streets, Paris lives in smoky bars where jazz creates an atmosphere almost like the one in Funny Face (minus colours, but “jazzier” and more melancholic). In contrast, Poland is an ordinary place, where black and white shots are painfully accurate; it is the cemetery of glory and dreams, revived by music, even if used as propaganda.
As in Ida, music is a perfect balance to the monochromatic shots within the stuffy 1:33 format. Folk, jazz, French poetry are also a narrative of the protagonists’ inner experiences and emotions. And they’re a symbolic beginning or an end of the parts of the great, yet turbulent, love story.
Cold War is dedicated and inspired by Pawlikowski’s parents, whose names were given to the two main characters, and whom he remembers as “the most interesting dramatic characters, both strong, wonderful people, but as a couple a never-ending disaster”. Cold War’s Wiktor and Zula, both passionate in their arguments and sex life, could also be perceived as catastrophic. And yet, it’s an undoubtedly beautiful one. They are the tragic figures of film noir. Cold War is ultimately an intimate story where, simply, love is war.