Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Cold War *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 13th September, 2018

Cold WarWhen the Communists took over power in Poland after the Second War — marginalising the government-in-exile in London — the country had to adjust to new frontiers, a more homogenous population following the expulsion of minorities and the gradual imposition of a new political order to fit in with the dictates of Joseph Stalin in Moscow. The febrile period of the late 1940s provides the setting for the opening scenes of Pawel Pawlikowski’s melodrama, Cold War, in which we see a handsome pianist and musical director, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), fall under the spell of a fiery blonde singer/dancer, Zula (Joanna Kulig), who is part of a troupe training in the echoing halls of an abandoned stately home. They are both free spirits and as romance stumbles along its rocky path, they find their lives and art increasingly circumscribed by the demands of philistine bureaucrats. A trip to perform in East Berlin in the early 1950s enables Wiktor to escape by walking out of the Russian zone into the West, but Zula is too insecure to accompany him. He moves to Paris, where he plays in nightclubs, unable to get her out of his mind despite other relationships. Fate throws them together later, both in France and Yugoslavia, and such is Zula’s fascination that the defector Wiktor determines to follow her back to Poland, with dire consequences. In less capable hands, this story could be a romantic tear-jerker, but Pawlikowski’s handling of both image and mood is magisterial. Shot in black-and-white, Cold War beautifully captures the atmosphere of the times. Polishness and the country’s folk culture are part and parcel of the narrative, intertwined with the political trope and the passion of fatal attraction. There are odd flashes of humour, but as the story unfurls it is clear that things are going to end badly. Logically, there is only one way the two lovers can resolve their dilemma, as what has become the prison of the system in which they now have to live becomes unbearable. By this stage most viewers will have taken both Wiktor and Zula to their hearts. Shakespearean in its intensity, Cold War is without doubt a masterpiece and visually stunning.

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