(Winner of the Best Director Prize to Pawel Pawlikowski at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival) Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and screenplay by Pawlikowski and Janusz Glowacki with additional contributions from Piotr Borkowski, Zimna wojna (Cold War) is the story of a musician who discovers a young singer as they embark on a relationship for 15 years amidst the many changing social and political elements following the end of World War II in Europe. The film is a love story set in the world of jazz during a tumultuous time in Europe as it is based partially on the life of Pawlikowski’s parents and how they met. Starring Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Kahn, and Jeanne Balibar. Zimna wojna is a majestic and rapturous film from Pawel Pawlikowski.
Set from 1949 to 1964 in Europe, the film revolves around two people who fall for each other as they embark on a tumultuous relationship as they deal with the growing social and political changes in their home country of Poland. It is a film that explore this relationship between these two people who have a love for music as they would later become collaborators yet they would often separate due to political forces beyond their control. The film’s screenplay has a straightforward narrative as much of its first act is set during 1949 Poland where a musician in Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is traveling through the country to record a lot of the folk music with his colleague Irena (Agata Kulesza) where they would discover a singer in Zula (Joanna Kulig), who has disguised herself as a peasant to get an audition, who is on probation after assaulting her abusive father. Wiktor and Zula become attracted to another as it gets the attention of an official in Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc) who has them take part in pro-Stalinist performances that Wiktor doesn’t like.
The second act play into Wiktor and Zula’s separation with the former having made a career as a musician in Paris while Zula lives in Poland only going to other places due to permission from Kaczmarek as they spend part of the mid-1950s trying to get together in Yugoslavia and Paris despite being with other people. When Zula marries an Italian man as a way to get a visa and see Wiktor, their love affair resumes but things become complicated due to the other lovers they have while Wiktor tries to create a singing career for Zula. The script play into these two people who love each other yet it also showcases a world that is often complicated not just in Paris but also in Poland as it showcases two people who are often hampered by many things around them.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s direction is definitely stylish in its approach to the story as it is shot in black-and-white and in 1:33:1 aspect ratio on various locations in Poland as well as parts of Paris, Berlin, and Croatia with the latter playing the role of old Yugoslavia. Through the usage of the full-frame aspect ratio, Pawlikowski maintains this air of nostalgia into the images of Poland coming out of World War II during its post-war period as there are wide shots including scenes of some of the music presentation from the Polish theatre troupe that Zula is a part of as was Wiktor early in the film. Much of Pawlikowski’s direction does emphasize on intimacy and mood through medium shots and close-ups as well as these striking compositions of a certain location or the way he places his actors in that location. Pawlikowski does create these moments that include some lingering long shots as well as a few tracking shots as a way to capture the atmosphere of these scenes.
Pawlikowski also play up this sense of political and social tension as the film’s second act that sets largely in Paris play into not just Zula’s own sense of alienation as she prefers to be in Poland but also the fact that she had the chance to leave with Wiktor but ended up staying in Poland when they both were in Berlin the night Wiktor chose to leave Poland that ended the film’s first act. The film’s third act doesn’t play into this sense of longing but also some of the faults of the world that Wiktor had chosen to live in as it showcases the decisions he’s making as it is all based on love. Even as he and Zula are forced to make compromises to be together as it showcases the many complications and forces that puts two people in the middle of the Cold War. Overall, Pawlikowski crafts a ravishing and evocative film about two Polish people who maintain a tumultuous relationship amidst the backdrop of the Cold War.
Cinematographer Lukasz Zal does phenomenal work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography as it adds to film’s gorgeous look as well as how it uses shadows and light for the interior/exterior scenes at night along with some interior scenes in the day as it’s a highlight of the film. Editor Jaroslaw Kaminski does brilliant work with the editing as it is largely straightforward while creating these abrupt straight-to-black cuts as a way to play into transitions as it gives the film its episodic tone. Production designers Katarzyna Sobanska and Marcel Slawinski do amazing work with the look of some of the places in Poland that Zula and Wiktor go to as well as the latter’s Parisian apartment and the nightclub where plays in a jazz group.
Costume designer Waldemar Pokromski does fantastic work with the costumes from the peasant costumes in some of the stage shows that Zula is a part of as well as the more jazz-like clothing that she and Wiktor would sport when they’re in Paris. The sound work of Maciej Pawlowski and Miroslaw Makowski is superb as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as how jazz music sounds in a club or how a grand music presentation for the government is presented in a ballroom. The film’s music soundtrack largely consists of folk, orchestral, and jazz music as it all play into the world that Zula and Wiktor encounter.
The film’s casting by Estelle Chailloux and Magdalena Szwarcbart is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Adam Woronowicz as a consul in Paris, Adam Ferency as a minister in Poland, Cedric Kahn as a film producer in Michel who gives Wiktor work in film scores but also takes an interest in Zula as a singer, Jeanne Balibar as a lover of Wiktor in Juliette who is a poet and writes the lyrics to the songs that Zula sings, and Agata Kulesza as Irena as a colleague of Michel who helps him find folk music and singers as she also choreographs the stage presentation. Borys Szyc is incredible as the political official Kaczmarek as a career-driven man who watches over Wiktor and Zula’s activities as he would take hold on the latter while being cautious yet friendly towards the former as he isn’t a total villain but a man of ambition.
Finally, there’s the duo of Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot in tremendous performance as Zula and Wiktor. Kot’s performance as the musician/musical director who finds singers and musicians to present for the government where he deals with the many changes that stifles his creativity where Kot provides this air of restraint as a man that just wants to make music but also fall in love as he deals with the chaos of the politics and social climate of the times. Kulig’s performance as Zula is filled with a lot of energy but also a melancholia of a woman that is just eager to be loved and feel included yet contends with the turmoil of the politics of Poland and the social circles in Paris as it adds to this alienation as she is forced to choose one instead of the other to maintain her love for Wiktor.
Zimna wojna is an outstanding film from Pawel Pawlikowski that features great performances from Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot. Along with its supporting cast, ravishing visuals, its look on the social and political changes in Europe following World War II, and a rich music soundtrack. The film is a fascinating and riveting love story that plays into two people who are dealing with a chaotic world around them and their desire to be with one another. In the end, Zimna wojna is a magnificent film from Pawel Pawlikowski.
Pawel Pawlikowski Films: (Last Resort (2000 film)) – My Summer of Love - (The Woman in the Fifth) – Ida (2013 film)
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