Sunday, February 17, 2019

COLD WAR (2018)

Rated:  R

STARS: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot
DIRECTOR: Pawel Pawlikowski
GENRE: Drama/ Romance

With border crossers being the hot button topic of the day, we get a film from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski that crosses more borders--physical, political, and musical--than you can shake a stick at.

Zula (Joanna Kulig) is a performer in a song and dance troupe showcasing traditional Polish music and culture. Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is the director who quickly falls for his lovely young ingenue, who is on probation for stabbing her father. (She's got real spunk and spirit, this one.)  She is also attracted to Wiktor, and they will do their thing with each other, and it will be good for a while. Until the commies want them to start injecting some Stalinist propaganda into their performances. Wiktor defects to France and Zula is supposed to follow suit--but she balks, and this is where the complications set in for the star-crossed lovers. But they manage to hook up improbably in Paris, Prague, and Warsaw amidst the changing circumstances of their lives. 

Pawlikowski reportedly based the lead characters on his own parents. But since his father was a doctor and his mother a literature professor, Cold War is not their story--though perhaps the seeds of it were sown when his mother removed him from communist Poland to a permanent exile in the west.

Music, the universal language, is what ties the disparate elements of Cold War together. The traditional folk music of Poland gives way to the jazzy film noir atmosphere of Parisian night clubs. The only constant is that the two leads remain hot for each other through a period spanning the decades of the fifties and sixties. (Only thing is they don't seem to age that much...but regular sex will keep you young looking...or so I hear!)

Joanna Kulig, who does her own singing and dancing, is immensely talented--an alluring and captivating presence who carries the film, which is something of a flawed masterpiece. I say flawed because of the ending. Without giving it away, I'll just say that it doesn't fit the characters. It's a lazy, deus ex machina way to end a film. Points deducted accordingly.

Grade:  B

For those of you who've gone to see movies with me, you already know my 'bottom line' litmus test. As we exit the theater, I always ask, "What one thing did you like most about this movie? And what one thing did you like least?" (It saves me from listening to long, disjointed cinematic opinions!) Then it's my turn. In the case of Cold War, my favorite thing was definitely the music. No matter what rhythm, language or how a song was presented, it reiterated to me how universal and powerful music is.

My least favorite thing? The editing. Cold War leapt from scene to scene faster than those high-kicking Polish dancers. Whatever happened to subtle transitions in movies? I realize life is often an emotional roller coaster but does art always have to imitate it?

This is the second black and white film I've seen this season. The first being Roma. (Both have received 3 Oscar nominations for Cinematography, Directing and Best Foreign Film). I wasn't killed with either. But forced to choose, I'd go with Cold War. For me, the black and white movie that truly deserved it's many, many Oscar wins was The Artist (2011).

Unlike Tim, I found the ending realistic. But then I'm less of a romantic than my co-reviewer!
Grade: C