This is a truly beautiful movie about two very stupid people. I know love does make you stupid, but… as much?
It’s funny to see another after “La La Land” heavily music-focused love story. But while that couple wasn’t as despicable as Wiktor and Zula, this is a much better movie. It’s also better than Pawlikowski’s previous work, the much awarded (including first Polish Oscar for a foreigh movie) “Ida”, which as well was shot on black and white 4:3 film. It’s even more beautifully shot, masterfully directed (much deserved Palme d’Or for that) and acted by Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig. It’s also perfectly scored – music is prominent throughout this movie, as it is about musicians, and both the choice of music and the performances are spot on. The whole movie plot could be summarized just with all the different versions of a certain Polish folk song that appears throughout.
The story is – again like “Ida”, looks like Pawlikowski has found his niche – set in deep Stalinism of 1950s Poland. When the topic of two artists planning an escape to the West I was afraid it’ll go into Smarzowski’s area (his “Róża” still remains one of the most horrible experiences I had in movies) but thankfully, while the political subplot rears its head from time to time, it never goes too far and remains a love story until the end, which is why it got to me more than “Ida” did with its topic of search of identity and belonging. “Cold War” is a story about love, yes, but more so it’s a cautionary tale about how love should not be given full authority over one’s actions. That no matter how deep or passionate your love is, you should never dismiss the voice of reason. From time to time – especially when you’re apart (and this does happen in this story, as it spans over 10 years) – you should stop and think if this is really good for you, if you still know the person you haven’t seen in years, or how much are you giving to sacrifice for this love, what moral event horizon are you willing to cross? And maybe, just maybe it’s just not worth it? Otherwise you may end up making some stupid, rash decisions with long term repercussions and you may end up hurting yourself, each other and who knows how many people around you.
This is where Gosling and Stone from “Bla Bla Bland”, despite their snobbery and inability to communicate, were better people than the “Cold War” couple: they knew when to call it quits and just move on with their lives. Meanwhile Wiktor and Zula’s actions sometimes just hurt with their randomness, though I have to admit it felt very human and believable how they professed their mutual affection and fought the obstacles (not always successfully) and I admire the movie trusts in the audience’s intelligence with its inexplicit means of expression, leaving plenty to the imagination – as mentioned, time and places skip often from scene to scene, but very quickly it can be gathered what has happened in the meantime. Most importantly, the movie managed to make me sympathize with Wiktor and Zula right away and as the story went on and my sympathy kept evaporating with their almost every decision, I still understood what they were going through. Up to and including the very end of the movie, when – to my wife’s horror – I made a comment “well, this makes sense”, as I truly felt this ending, for these particularly twisted characters and their twisted worldview, was the only reasonable solution.
And I know some of what happened was caused by stupid politics of the day, while I’m looking at it with my “enlightened” 21st century mind (although it’s terrifying how timely some of the scenes felt, how familiar the Party-praising bullshit spewed by some characters sound), but I can’t shake the feeling that in the most pivotal moments the lover’s and their relationship’s fate was truly in none other’s hands than their own.
This review can also be found on my Letterboxd profile.