Fresh from his Cannes win for Best Director in May, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is beautifully bleak portrayal of a battle scarred Europe following the end of the Second World War.
Three artists travel through rural Poland in search of young people who can be moulded into true performers, displaying the vitality of the communist regime, eventually whittling down the group to a select few. Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), one of the directors of the programme, soon notices and falls for the elusive Zuzanna (Joanna Kulig), a young woman with a haunting voice and a background shrouded in mystery.
Their love affair spans decades, on both sides of the Berlin Wall, waxing and waning as easily as the moon, as they both struggle with creating the art that they truly desire, while surviving among the political tensions of post-war Europe.
Remnants of Nazi Germany and “pureness”, combined with the subtle reminders of the communist regime – furtive glances, unnerving strangers – allows the film to capture the overwhelming nature of change during the mid-twentieth century, the sense of newness and optimism along with the remembrance of the recent past.
The black and white cinematography gives the film a stark quality along with the limited dialogue, and every single shot is a work of art. Emotion is conveyed through glances and gestures, and the complex relationship of Zuzanna and Wiktor is never fully explained or unpacked. They are simply two souls destined to be together.
Pawlikowski captures the difficult in rebuilding after the war in a country that is deeply divided between the urban and the rural. Shots of ruined churches surrounded by snow-filled landscapes contrast with the sleekness of a Stalin banner rising up in a packed theatre in Warsaw. There is a very European sensibility to the film, not least through it’s production and funding from Poland, the UK and France, but also in the nouvelle vague idea of saying little but showing much.
Cold War has a limited run in the UK, but I would recommend looking around for screenings in local arts cinemas ie. The Electric Cinema in Birmingham, or FACT in Liverpool.