Cold War movie review: A visually stimulating Soviet-era drama impeded by restrained storytelling

Udita Jhunjhunwala

October 30, 2018 11:13:50 IST

3/5

Pawel Pawlikowski’s black and white, post World World War 2 drama is dedicated to his parents. Filmed in 4x3 aspect ratio, the story sweeps through eastern and western Europe in the years just after the war up to the years of the Cold War (mid-60s).

A still from Cold War. YouTube screengrab

A still from Cold War. YouTube screengrab

Pianist and conductor Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and his partner Irena (Agata Kulesza) are travelling around rural Poland recording folk music and scouting for talent for their stage production. During the auditions for singers and dancers, Wiktor is immediately infatuated with Zula (Joanna Kulig), a pretty girl with a back-story that accentuates her appeal.

As the stage group’s success grows, the state invites them to incorporate propaganda songs praising Stalin and his land reform policies. Irena and Wiktor do so reluctantly. Wiktor and Zula’s passionate love story is also developing on the sidelines of the performances and a state-endorsed show is now offering the group the opportunity to tour Germany and the Soviet Union.

While on a tour to Berlin, Wiktor devises a plan to defect to Paris. He asks Zula to join him. But do Wiktor and Zula see their future in the same way? From Poland to Berlin to Paris and Yugoslavia, time and politics are not kind to these star-crossed lovers.

Wiktor and Zula’s fated love story ebbs and flows in the folds of the Iron Curtain. They are divided by borders, politics, bureaucracy and ambition, but over the years they manage to reconnect whenever and wherever possible. During one rendezvous in Paris, Zula asks Wiktor whether the compromise for an imagined better life in the West was worth it for an artist like him.

With changing geography and passage of time, the soundtrack shifts from Polish folk to French jazz to rock ‘n’ roll. This is one of the highlights of Pawlikowski’s homage. Kulig’s magnetic performance is another hook in a film, which is more visually appealing than emotional moving. The focus is firmly on the lovers trapped by the times in which they live. While it’s all very lovely to look at, even at its most tragic moments, the emotions don’t break out of the perimeter set by the restrained storytelling.

Editor's note: The 20th edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival is finally here, and with it comes an unending list of critically acclaimed Indian and international films to watch. Firstpost will review the most promising of these films.

Updated Date: Oct 30, 2018 11:13 AM