Battle of Cold Lovelife (“Cold War”, P. Pawlikowski)

While the sounds of Slavic folk music played on accordion, fife and bagpipes, made of goat skins, are echoing in the background, followed by rough voices of old women trying to catch the right melody, black and white images of people from rural areas of Poland, wearing traditional clothes, in square 4: 3 format is slowly transitioning. Then a young composer, in a fine suit, appears. He has a strong chest and sharp and masculine facial lines…
Two hearts, four eyes…
His name is Wiktor, and with his mildly older colleague Irena, he is following closely the performances of each of the folklore performers, dresses up, their attitude and their vocal abilities. They are looking for members of the folklore ensemble, which would spread the joy through Poland with authentic performances about the love and work of common people. Soon the stage is occupied by Zula, a blonde city girl, who, with her firm attitude, honest singing and faked out a costume, is obviously trying to hide something or to escape something. Nevertheless, the composer notices that Zula “has something” right for ensemble and the tragedy begins to unravel.
It’s been five years since Pawel Pawlikowski made “Ida”, the Oscar-winning drama of a young Polish nun, placed in the first half of the 1960s, which, right before she takes her oath gets thrown on the path of temptation and self-discovery, where she finds out a gloomy history and heavy fate past of her family that disappeared during the World War II. With his new film “Cold War”, for which he won the prize for best director at the Cannes Film Festival, Pawlikowski again deals with a tough human fate, located in an approximately the same time frame, somewhere between the late forties and the mid-sixties of the last century.
Started crying in the middle of the night…
“Cold War” follows Wiktor, a devastated young musician and the mysterious, determined singer Zula on their struggle against the world, themselves and others. The story extends over a period of fifteen years in length, in which the relationship between the protagonists is best described just like the context of the film’s time frame- Cold War. Moving from their working days in the ensemble, which intends to promote Polish culture, through the penetration of communist propaganda into their work, Wiktor’s refusal to be an advisory messenger and his escape from the ensemble in Berlin, up to his meetings with Zula in Paris, and Yugoslavian city of Split … everything in these characters and their relationships with oneself and the environment functions on the premise of a complex game of hiding and outwitting.
Although the tension of time unfolds, in various ways in the foreground, in the background, the director additionally enhances the emotional charge and the spirit of the period by mimicking the film epochs and national film traditions. “Roman einer jungen Ehe” (1952), “Les belles de nuit” (1952), “Thérèse Raquin” (1953), “Jak byc kochana” (1963) are just some of the European films in which it is possible to recognize the visual identity or what Pawlikowski uses in his new film. This is most obvious in the scene, placed in late 50’s in the Paris jazz bar “Eclipse”, in which Zula, almost by the model of the female lead from Nouvelle Vague films, in her long black dress, and the secreted, slightly masculine expression of the face, passes through the physical/emotional transition from melancholy, through instant suppression of tragedy, innocent flirting to an erotized ascent, followed by an obvious fall in the hands of a failed masculine protagonist.
Black eyes why are you crying…
The film is structured as an episodic drama, with elements of romance and musical. Every passage from the life of an unlucky love couple offers impressive background music that moves from different folklore compositions, through jazz even to the short excursion to rockabilly. Dwa serduszka, cztery oczy , a composition that repeats during the film also goes through a series of different arrangements, follows the character’s development and once again reflects the current state, constantly intermingling element of Cold War on the film. The true significance of the composition, we see before the very end of the film, after Wiktor and Zula have recorded an album (which contains the jazz variant of this song), which he calls their love child.
Maybe a bit unfair, but inevitably obvious because of the ending, it could be said that “Cold War” revives and reconstructs the pinch of Russian realism from the 19th-century literature and brings it to film. Overall Pawlikowski made a sensual and grounded story, driven by a splendid musical background, in which the emotions and passions of some lost time, are episodically revealed in only 88 minutes.