In “Cold War,” a hot romance is doomed from the start. Writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, whose 2013 film “Ida” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, stages a love story that crosses political boundaries, but is universal in its volatility.
Tomasz Kot is Wiktor Warski, a musician scouting talent in post-WWII Poland. Joanna Kulig electrifies as Zuzanna “Zula” Lichoń, a much younger singer who catches his eye from a crowded field. The two pair up and their affair shoots sparks, though both parties know the flame is burning quickly and isn’t meant to last.
They fall out and reconvene years later in France, and follow this pattern for years. Political forces keep them apart. But so do their personal issues, and their inability to shelve the other matters in their lives and make each other a priority. They take up other lovers, knowing they’ll eventually come back to one another. But the passion between them runs so deep that they’re always ready to explode, walk away and repeat the cycle all over again. A scene where Zula tears up a dance floor to “Rock Around the Clock” while he looks on speaks volumes.
The political metaphors are thick, but not so much that they overshadow the humanity of the love story at the film’s center. Kot and Kulig scorch the screen when they’re together, and Pawlikowski (working with cinematographer Łukasz Żal) shoots in luxe black and white that adds to the stark economy of the film. (It comes in at a lithe 88 minutes.)
The ending comes as a stunner, but is the only logical conclusion for Wiktor and Zula. “Cold War” captivates and transcends barriers of language and culture. It’s a gorgeous tale as rocky as it is romantic.
Adam Graham Detroit News Film Criticagraham@detroitnews.com
Published 9:25 AM EST Feb 1, 2019