Cold War

Cold War

Movie still from Cold War

On its surface this is a love story. A tragic romance about two lovers kept apart by the iron curtain. A relationship that spans decades, but is so fiery it can’t be sustained. Their love is one of those impossible kinds so popular in fiction, they can’t live with each other, they also can’t survive apart. They are always, somewhat inexplicably, drawn back to each other. 

Beautifully shot in high contrast black and white, with an ever so subtle purple tint that somehow adds to the nostalgic feel of the film. For me, the story is not really about the love affair. The romance, although based on the story of director Pawel Pawlikowski’s parents, feels too stylised, like a vehicle to talk about something else, which I’ll talk more about in the spoiler section below. Still, this film is as enthralling as the love Zula and Viktor feel, the shots sensuous and bewitching with deep blacks and silky whites, and a hypnotic soundtrack it’s easy to get lost in.

Going deeper (with spoilers)….

The love story is an impression of a love story. A stylised romance with none of detail that makes it tangible. The story is what is going on behind the two lovers, what is ostensibly the backdrop but is actually holds more meaning. The intractability of the soviet block, which steals the original artistic vision of the troupe for the purposes of propaganda. And then steals the innocent love of our two protagonists when Zula confesses she has been informing on Viktor. And it’s all, more or less, down hill from there.

Zula feels most at home in Poland. It is what she knows. She doesn’t want to leave, and so she abandons her lover when he escapes. Viktor, on the other hand, can’t breath behind the iron curtain. He can only see a future in the west, and indeed when he returns and is imprisoned it almost kills him.

Zula is a survivor, like so many were in the Soviet states at this time. She is able to make do with what is on offer behind the iron curtain. It is a life that would provide for those who played along. And Zula plays along when she eventually marries the good communist Kaczmarek. She’s clearly not happy though, the film suggests she has it all, a successful career, influential husband, a child, but she’s not happy. But let’s face it, she wasn’t exactly holding it together in Paris either, despite having a career and the love of her life Viktor. Meanwhile while Viktor leaves Zula behind the first time, once they are reunited he will do anything for her, and blindly follows her even though it means years in prison for him, presumably just so he can see her from time to time when she visits him.

Ultimately a beautiful film which says something about life in the Soviet Union, but personally I don’t buy the love story. I can understand it as a vehicle for something larger, but for me the story is lacking something, as hypnotic and enthralling as it is. 

Cold War will be showing in cinemas from 26 December, although there are previews in select locations this weekend.