By Afra Nariman
Cold War (2018)
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Stars: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot
An impossible romance during the Cold War in Poland, between a composer (played by Tomasz Kot) and a singer (played by Joanna Kulig).
Pawel Pawlikowski has cemented himself as one of the most artistically fluent filmmakers of our time. Cold War showcases that sentiment beautifully. With award winning, unparalleled cinematography, this film shows us the reality of life during the Cold War and tells the story of an everlasting romance that survives years of unattainability. From the very beginning we are given a taste of the hypnotic element of music that pulses throughout the film, providing Pawlikowski’s artistic masterpiece with a lively spirit. The filmmaker’s immersive pace and masterful use of scenic backgrounds as the frames of scenes is on full display as well.
The film explores the reality of living under a dictatorship. The film doesn’t focus on the war, but the way that it impacted how different aspects of life and the lives of people living in the affected countries were altered. Simple things that bring joy such as love and music, both become more complicated due to the politics that life revolves around for so many.
What Cold War is about, through and through, is the nature of love, told through the story of a romance that spans over a decade. It’s about the perseverance of love. Wiktor and Zula are in love, but their love is not permitted. Their love is unattainable and often times seems utterly impossible. Life pulls them apart, but instead of their love dwindling, it evolves.
Music is a powerful element of the film — both aesthetically and in service to communicating the message of the film’s love story. The film’s decision in using folk music, a genre of music that communicates realities, stories and emotions, is particularly important. Many of the songs that Zula and others sing, directly correlate and speak to the forbidden love shared by Wiktor and Zula. Here are a few examples of how the lyrics of the songs speak to the story as a whole:
“…mother forbade me from loving the lad…”
In this verse, the mother has control, or influence on the singer’s love life. For Zula and Wiktor, the regime in which they are dictated by have a similar control over their lives.
“…Crying all day and all night… dark eyes you cry, you cannot be together.”
This verse speaks to the pain and sorrow that the two lovers feel for much of the film.
“Heart, you don’t care for peace. Heart, it’s great to be alive. Heart, it’s so good you’re like this. Thank you, Heart, for knowing how to love like this.”
This song, which seems to be the dominant song of the film, speaks to the ultimate message that the film conveys: Love persists. No matter how impossible the obstacles that stand in the way of love; it shall persist. And although love may be hard, especially when it is forbidden and feels impossible, it is what makes us human and makes us feel alive. Cold War is so humanized; it makes you feel happy to be able to feel love, and to be alive.
At one point, a song that Zula writes is translated by a prominent poet. One of the song’s verses translate to something that metaphorically means: “Time doesn’t matter when you’re in love.” In their story, Wiktor and Zula are not only prevented from being together due to politics, but also by time. They often go years without being able to see each other. They have other relationships, but openly admit that they mean nothing to them. The idea that pulses throughout the film is that no matter how complicated the world is, no matter how much space or time stands in between you; love is love, and that’s that. Their love persists over decades, across countries and in spite of being forbidden. Wiktor and Zula rescue each other from an otherwise painful existence that they are forced into. In each other, they find escape.
Cold War is a lively expression of love under harrowing circumstances where love seems impossible. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. It is a lovely romance that is powerful, the film speaks to your senses and your heart; and concludes in the most unbelievably heartbreaking way imaginable. Pawel Pawlikowski’s incredible filmmaking style is on full display. Told through a soft black-and-white canvas, Cold War affects you in every way a great romance and great war-time tragedy should. The film’s soundtrack is unforgettable, the cinematography practically unparalleled, the pace is perfect, and the story will stick with you long after the film concludes.