‘Cold War’ – A Visual Masterpiece
One of the most beautiful films of recent times, the 2018 Palme d’Or winner ‘Cold War’ from director Pawel Powlikowski, is a sensual and provocative exploration of a tempestuous relationship that unfolds over fifteen years on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
The story concerns Zula and Wiktor, a singer/dancer and a composer thrown together during the formulation of a touring musical group in Poland 1949. We follow their progress through the 1950s and early 60s where both lead separate lives on either side of the Iron Curtain. Wiktor emigrates to Paris to work in the booming jazz clubs as a piano player, and eventually as a composer for French motion pictures. Zula remains with the musical group she auditioned for in 1949, touring various parts of communist Eastern Europe. Every few years, the lovers come back into each other’s lives and they pick up exactly where they’d left off, despite all the changes to their lives as the years progress. Although magnetically drawn to each other across time and space, the couple are wholly unsuited, which becomes painfully apparent for both us the audience, and the characters.
Their difficulty to maintain a healthy relationship is reflected in the way each deal with the differences in western and eastern culture. Zula despises the pretentiousness and falsehoods of the west, whilst Wiktor loves the creative freedoms offered in Paris, hating the constricting confines of the Eastern Bloc. When either spends too much time in the other’s preferred environment, they begin to grow more distant from each other and long for the familiarity of their own world.
The film is dominated by music, both diagetic and non-diagetic, using it to convey more of the characters’ emotions to the audience rather than through dialogue. It reaches its most entrancing once we catch up with Wiktor in Paris, bathing us in fabulous jazz alongside noir-like nightclubs filled with cigarette smoke and neon signs. Shots of Zula and Wiktor dressed in black strolling the empty streets of Paris evoke memories of Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’. In fact, most of the film has a very retro-feel, almost like watching a piece of Italian Neo-Realism or French New Wave. Visually, the film is unparalleled in its beauty. Not since the days of ‘Touch of Evil’ or ‘The Third Man’ has black-and-white film been shot so elegantly or expertly. Each shot is almost like a piece of wonderfully composed still photography.
If there is any film to see this year, ‘Cold war’ should certainly be top of the list. There is no finer example of a simple story told with such genuine emotion and grace.
With special thanks to the Curzon Cinema Sheffield for this screening.