Published on January 25th, 2019 | by Dan Nicholls


Cold War

In limited release now, Cold War is another amazing film from Academy Award-nominated director Pawel Pawlikowski.  It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking love story for the ages.

Fresh off three Academy Award nominations, acclaimed filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is now spreading across North America in a limited rollout. It’s a story about the grandest of romances impeded by physical and mental barriers. It’s devastating, heart-rending, and it’s also beautiful to behold. Cold War is simply an astounding film that will imprint itself on your soul.

Zula (Joanna Kulig) meets Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) in 1949 when she auditions to be part of his musical ensemble in Poland. She’s steadfast, acerbic, and completely transfixing. It isn’t long before the two begin to fall in love, placing them both in a precarious situation. They make a plan to flee from their communist home to the freedom of the west, but a small decision splits their paths irrevocably. As time marches on they bring themselves back to each other only to break apart again over and over.

Is it infatuation or something as grand as fate that keeps bringing Zula and Wiktor together? It’s an indescribable feeling between the two, the electricity popping with every stolen glance. But as their love story unfolds over 15 eventful years a deepening existential depression start to swallow their idealistic dreams whole. True happiness always seems like it’s right in front of them yet miles away.

We’re shown snapshots of their relationship in different points of time, like a condensed version of the Before trilogy, catching up with them after a couple years between each break. They’re brought together and pulled apart continuously in a heartbreaking swirl of self-sabotage. The love between them is immense and yet neither of them believes they deserve it. Fleeting moments of undistracted romance make your heart swell.

Director Pawel Pawlikowski co-wrote the screenplay, which he has said was inspired by his parents’ push-pull, on-again-off-again tumultuous relationship. It’s a highly impressive feat that we feel like we’ve genuinely spent a decade and a half with these characters despite an amazingly slim runtime of 88 minutes. This brevity elevates every moment and Pawlikowski endues each second with maximum care and precision. It’s a stunning directorial achievement that proves less can be considerably more when characters and story are wholly embodied within an artist totally in control of his craft.

Chief among Cold War’s most notable aspects is its stunning black and white cinematography. Presented in a 4:3 ratio, which keeps the frame close and intimate, the richness in the details are as stark as the lines separating Wiktor and Zula from what they’re too afraid to admit they really want. There are images that will take your breath away; certain shots are masterpieces on their own. The performances from Tomasz Kot and especially Joanna Kulig are layered with meaning behind acute subtleties. Period costumes and production design bleed authenticity.

Cold War is a beautiful, heartbreaking portrait of love trying to bloom in a place and time where the sun never shines. The cruelty of politics and the manipulations of our minds prove to be no match for the power of true love, even if those factors steal much away from people who haven’t done anything to deserve it. It is a great, great film that will stand out in your mind long after other movies have come and gone. Do not miss this one.

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is a Vancouver-based, lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. @dannicholls

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