Love, music and politics are an explosive mix in “Cold War,” a heartbreakingly beautiful drama from the rightly acclaimed Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, whose movie “Ida” won the Academy Award for Foreign-Language film four years ago.
The story of “Cold War” starts in the rubble of World War II, when Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a music director, first encounters Zula (Joanna Kulig), a singer whose voice is as remarkable as her beauty. The two fall in love hard, to the point of obsession.
As musicians in a Poland that is now under the influence of Stalin’s Russia, Wiktor and Zula are forced to perform for the Communist government’s propaganda machine. They talk about someday escaping to the West — but when the chance comes to make a break for freedom in France, something happens that changes their lives forever.
Pawilkowski, co-writing with Janusz Glowacki and Piotr Borkowski, loosely based the story on his own parents. He keeps the story at an intimate level, channeling global events through the eyes of this love-bound couple, and how politics is filtered through their passions.
The movie has the allure of film noir, with foggy streets and smoky gin joints rendered in piercing black-and-white images by cinematographer Łukasz Żal, who received an Academy Award nomination for his work. (The movie is also nominated in the Foreign-Language Film category, and Pawlikowski scored a surprise directing nod, the first time a director has been nominated for a film didn’t get a Best Picture nomination since the Oscars expanded the Best Picture category past five nominees.)
Because of Pawilkowski’s tight focus on this self-destructive couple, the movie becomes a showcase for Kulig and Kot, and their performances have an intensity seldom found in movies. It may be a “Cold War,” but the actors’ chemistry burns through the screen.
Opened December 21 in select cities; opens Friday, February 1, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City) and Century Cinemas 16 (South Salt Lake City). Rated R for some sexual content, nudity and language. Running time: 87 minutes; in Polish (and other languages) with subtitles.