Cold War

Year: 2018
Production Co: Opus Film
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writer: Pawel Pawlikowski/Janusz Glowacki/Piotr Borkowski
Cast: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot

I put this film on one of my watch lists after reading the rapturous reviews and was pretty disappointed. It's about a dysfunctional love affair that's doomed from the start and only condemns two people to a lifetime of misery where they can't live either with or without each other, and honestly I expected something more incisive.

I guess the setting (postwar Poland reeling from the yoke of totalitarianism) and the visual aesthetic (stark, brutalist black and white) were two aspects we don't see nearly enough on screens, but as well executed as both those elements were, they didn't do enough to elevate a plot that's so mired in romantic nihilism.

When Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and his female partner are auditioning singers and dancers for a folk music troupe that will tour Europe, he's immediately taken by the ballsy young peasant girl Zula (Joanna Kulig), casting her and soon sleeping with her.

The company's administrative manager pressures Wiktor and his creative partner to include pro-socialist themes in its music so it can be play in places where stricter communist mores are observed, and when the tour takes them to East Berlin, he and Zula make a plan to meet in secret near the checkpoint to the West and defect so they can be together.

When Zula fails to show up Wiktor goes by himself, and so begins a series of star crossed meetings throughout Europe over the next few years as both find their creative fortunes rising and falling, the time and their circumstances never quite right for the pair to finally find solace in each other's arms.

That is until they finally do, and rather than it being a love story for the ages (like a similar film I was reminded of, the animated Chico y Rita), their various career doldrums and what they want out of their music and each other only launches them into a downward spiral of resentment and hatred. No matter how much we want it, the movie seems to be saying, love can sometimes suck, the person you want can sometimes be all wrong for you, or whatever's going on in your life might hijack any happiness you have with them.

I'm not saying that's not a worthy story to tell - life isn't a fairytale and God knows we get enough Love Conquers All crap from Hollywood movies. But to place a movie in such an evocative time and place and then that be all it has to say was just a bit of a letdown.

If you squint you might find parallels or allegories about the oppressive political climate of postwar Europe, but to me that was all just foil to bring the pair together and separate them again. The same story could have been told about two cave people from opposing tribes or a modern romcom complete with cheesy gags.

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