Sunday, February 3, 2019

Love in a Communist Climate

Movies: Cold War

Cold War, from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, is an elegant, gorgeous, bleak love story that covers three decades (starting in 1949 and ending in 1964) and crosses half a dozen European countries in a slim 85 minutes.

In post-WWII Poland, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot, the embodiment of "tall, dark, and handsome"), a musician, travels with a small group of music producers across rural Poland to tape people singing folk music. Their goal is to gather a group of young, talented singers and dancers to put on shows as the "Mazurek Ensemble" so that "the music of the people" will not be forgotten (that Polish authorities eventually co-opt the group to produce Communist propaganda annoys Wiktor--who is not sympathetic to Communism--to no end).

In the formation of this group, Wiktor meets Zula (Joanna Kulig, who looks like Kate McKinnon with her blond hair and feline eyes), a young woman probably 15-20 years younger than he--beautiful, talented, mysterious, and heartlessly fickle in the way young, beautiful women can sometimes be. The two embark on what other movie critics call an "impossible" love affair that is heartbreaking in that it is, in fact, not impossible--it's simply that the two lovers can't mold their personalities to fit the others' needs.

Wiktor, despite his age and experience, is presented as the more lovestruck, more vulnerable half of the couple. He is a true artist who is willing to live in poverty for his art and perhaps follows his heart when he should be following his head. Zula is ambitious and opportunistic--she'll fuck, or even marry, whomever can boost her career or provide security. She is also jealous and, as I said, fickle, allowing her to drop Wiktor only to pick right back up where they left off years later.

Shot is gorgeous black and white at a 1:88 aspect ratio with a transcendent soundtrack filled with sad jazz, Cold War feels very European and very old school. If it weren't for the (relatively modest) sex scenes and uses of the term "fuck" and "cunt", one could easily believe this movie was filmed during the actual Cold War. It's retro in the most lovely way. Even its views of love are retro--hopelessly romantic and doomed, like Casablanca. It recalls a time when people loved with their entire hearts, as opposed to today where there is perhaps more freedom in love, but less devotion and intimacy.

Despite rave reviews from critics, I would say that Cold War left me wanting. It's a very good movie, don't get me wrong, but it was hard to believe in Wiktor and Zula's love since it seemed to come out of nowhere and appeared very one-sided. One definitely believes in their passion--there is no doubt that the lovers have an intense, undeniable attraction that pulls them back towards each other through time, across countries, and despite marriages and children. But is it *love*? Love worth years of suffering and worth abandoning everything for? It's hard to say. Wiktor and Zula recall perhaps the most infamous lovers of all time: Romeo and Juliet. They share a connection that makes both of them run headlong into foolish and dangerous choices without a second thought, simply for the chance to spend 10 minutes together.

Cold War is worth the watch--and worth watching on the big screen--especially if you're a fan of artsy, European movies. This one is far more art than entertainment, but as far as art goes, it is about 80% a masterpiece and 20% frustration.

Grade: B+

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