Star-Crossed Lovers Repeatedly Rendezvous in Postwar Drama
STAR-CROSSED LOVERS: A celebrated musical director (Tomasz Kot) and an aspiring young singer (Joanna Kulig) find romance behind the post-World War II Iron Curtain in the romantic drama “Cold War.” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)
By Kam Williams
Dateline: Poland, 1949. The countryside is still devastated by the blight left behind in the wake of World War II. It is amidst these ruins that we find young Zula Lichon (Joanna Kulig) auditioning for a spot in the national entertainment ensemble.
The aspiring singer-dancer survives the tryout because the repertory company’s powerful musical director, Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot), is quite taken by her beauty. The pretty peasant girl, in turn, is quite flattered by the attention being lavished on her by her handsome and relatively-sophisticated advocate, even though he’s old enough to be her father.
Before long the two start a romance, indulging in stolen moments between their traveling troupe’s performances at various ports of call behind the Iron Curtain. Sadly, they are far less passionate about their work than they are about each other.
That’s because the group finds itself pressured to stage productions that are pure propaganda, given how Poland, as part of the Soviet bloc, is under the thumb of Stalinist Russia. In fact, the political paranoia of the era so deeply affects Zula that she meets weekly with a Communist Party boss (Lech Kaczmarek) to secretly snitch on her unsuspecting lover’s conduct.
The jaded artists hatch a plan to defect to the West in 1952 following a concert in East Berlin. But when only one of the two follows through with the plan, they end up separated.
Thus unfolds Cold War, a melancholy masterpiece written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. His previous picture, Ida, won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2015. This black-and-white romance drama has deservedly landed a trio of nominations, in the Foreign Film, Director, and Cinematography categories.
Between a sobering score and haunting settings, Pawlikowski has created the perfect backdrop for a maudlin postmortem contemplating the fate of a couple of star-crossed lovers.
Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality, nudity, and profanity. In Polish, French, Russian, German, Italian, and Croatian. Running time: 89 minutes. Production Companies: Opus Films/Polish Film Institute/Film4/BFI/MK2 Films. Distributor: Amazon Studios.