Monday, July 22, 2024


THE STORYSet against the backdrop of the 1950s Cold War in Poland, two people of differing backgrounds and temperaments begin an almost impossible romance.

THE CAST Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot & Agata Kulesza

THE TEAMPaweł Pawlikowski (Director/Writer) & Janusz Głowacki

85 Minutes

​By Matt Neglia

​Paweł Pawlikowski’s follow up to his Academy Award-winning film “Ida,” titled “Cold War,” is a triumphant testament to the power of love in the face of personal disputes, politically charged times and death itself. Equally loving as it is tragic, “Cold War” is the unintentional sequel to “La La Land” that answers the question: what if the two leads decided not to follow their own dreams and decided to stay together? With a runtime of only 85 minutes, Pawlikowski manages to answer that question in a story that spans countries and decades.

Set in postwar Poland, “Cold War” tells the decades-long love story of Zuzanna “Zula” Lichoń (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot). Wiktor is a musician, recorder, and composer who is traveling the countryside to capture the sound of the locals, seeking out talent for a state-sponsored school for singers and dancers to be used as a propaganda tool. While auditioning many female singers, he is struck by Zula, a much younger but beautiful blonde who he sees something more in than the other girls. Does he really? Or is he simply infatuated with her beauty? The film never seems to answer that and before long, the two are lovers. That love is put to the test, as the political landscape, their own personal ideologies and feelings towards each other change over the course of several decades. Whether they’re meant to be together or not, Zula and Wiktor keep managing to overcome every obstacle thrown their way to both uplifting and heartbreaking effect.

“Cold War” is shot in gorgeous black and white with the same style of framing (Where the subject is placed at the bottom of the frame with lots of negative space above) found in “Ida.” The results are some of the best shots I have seen in 2018, with multiple moments that could be frozen, framed and hung up on a bedroom wall. It really is that beautiful. Pawlikowski reteams with his “Ida” cinematographer, Academy Award nominee Łukasz Żal and they continue their winning success here. Look no further than a dance club scene set to “Rock Around The Clock” where the movement of the camera, choreography, and music all come together to create a moment of pure cinematic bliss. If the beauty of the cinematography is meant to match the beauty of the love story, then the black and white visuals are meant to match the contrast found in Wiktor and Zula’s relationship. 

Of the two leads, Joanna Kulig impresses more with her affecting and expressive performance as Zula while Tomasz Kot more so looks the part of the cool artist than making us invested in his performance. Perhaps that is part of where the frustration lies in the relationship itself. These are two mismatched people, who by 2018 standards, should not be together but too often we have seen or heard stories exactly like Zula and Wiktor’s, maybe not with so many dramatics (such as having to cross enemy lines and face possible imprisonment), but with the same level of feeling and commitment despite all of the signs pointing towards the relationship ending in disaster. Whether “Cold War” ends on that disastrous note or not is entirely up to your worldview. For myself, I found it to be incredibly bittersweet and yet so pure.

At one point in the film, one of the characters mentions that “the pendulum killed time” signifying that time doesn’t matter when you’re in love. With multiple time jumps, condensed yet dense storytelling and a vibrant look at the music from the period and how it evolves as much as Zula and Wiktor’s relationship, “Cold War” does so much with so little. At a lean 85 minutes long, it manages to say more in its runtime than most films attempt with two and a half hours.


THE GOOD – An epic and fulfilling story told in a short span of time. Beautiful black and white photography. Joanna Kulig is sensational.

THE BAD – Tomasz Kot is less sensational (but not in a way that hinders the movie). Editing can be a bit jarring at times as we jump ahead in time.

THE OSCARS – Best DirectorBest Foreign Language Film & Best Cinematography (Nominated)


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Matt Neglia
Matt Neglia
Obsessed about the Oscars, Criterion Collection and all things film 24/7. Critics Choice Member.

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