Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc
Release Date: December 21, 2018
Inspired by his parent’s relationship, director Pawel Pawlikowski tells the story of a relationship between a musical director and a singer, set in the late 1940s in Poland. Faced with an opportunity to escape west for freedom, they make a decision that would change the course of their relationship over the next 15 years.
We see the ups and downs of their relationship. Because of circumstances often out of their control, the two are pulled apart multiple times over the course of the story, sometimes reuniting only for a night or for a few years. We see the intense love the two have for each other but also the destructive tendencies each have, which play a factor in their constant separation and reunions.
With a lean runtime of 88 minutes, the story covers 15 years by jumping in the years the two aren’t together. These jumps are anywhere from two to four years but leave the audience to fill in the gaps through the brief catching up of small talk between the two. This wastes no time on the details of the two when they’re not together but rather highlights the fact that they keep finding their way back together. For some this could take away from the storytelling as we don’t get some intimate details that we would normally get in a romance movie. From a narrative standpoint, we could have used some more time on the two each on their own to feel a stronger connection to their relationship and the struggles in the years they spent apart.
The themes of the film are hammered home in some obvious ways, the most pronounced being the pain of not being together, which is highlighted in a song that is performed regularly throughout the film to a point that parts can get stuck in your head. Other subtle ways are quotes from minor characters that stick out, such as “Time doesn’t matter when you’re in love,” which is arguably the biggest takeaway from a story that spans over a decade during which the two spend more time apart than together.
Shot in black and white 4:3 aspect ratio Cold War visually is beautiful. The musical numbers are masterfully done. From the large theater performances of the traveling show that the young couple are a part of, to the shots of them playing to smaller audiences in intimate jazz bar settings you feel like you’re seeing the performances live. Pawlikowski tells a complicated love story while providing some of the best visuals we’ve seen this year.
Cold War was nominated for three Oscars: Cinematography, Best Director and Best Foreign Film. All well deserving of their nominations but in a year with so many great foreign films this one is the weakest of those nominated. If you’re a film nerd, which, if you’re reading a review about a black-and-white foreign-language film set in the 1950s I assume that you are, then this one is a must see especially in theaters. If not, there’s Roma on Netflix if you want to try something with a similar style to see if making the trip to the theater for Cold War is something you would be interested in doing.