Review: Styx

Review: Cold War

In this passionate love story set in Soviet-era Poland, Zula, a young singer with a past, enters a state-run performing academy where she meets the love of her life, Wictor, the pianist-musical director of the program. The film follows their on-again and off-again relationship across decades as they escape the Iron Curtain and ultimately return. Music is a key element of the story. There is one folk song that is sung first as an audition piece, then as a chorus in concert, then as a Polish jazz song, then translated into French. And Joanna Kulig’s performance as Zula is particularly powerful. Not only does she sing beautifully, but her face lights up the screen.

The story is set within the propagandist Soviet machine era with little bureaucrats scurrying around tweaking the music and the program to elevate Stalin and the party’s ideas about land reform, etc. But Zula doesn’t care one bit about the politics. She’s a star. Wictor though wants out and defects while they’re in Berlin on tour, failing to talk Zula into joining him. He heads to Paris and joins a jazz band, and many years later Zula joins him, only to return to Poland when the West is too much for her. But fear not, Wictor sacrifices his freedom and they end up together, both of them much older and worse for wear. It’s a difficult and fraught relationship, and ultimately, a beautiful love story.

Cold War is shot in gorgeous black and white, extremely photographic, much like the director Paweł Pawlikowski’s previous Oscar winning film Ida, which I loved. Thanks to the amazing cinematographer Lukasz Zal for that! And the chemistry between the lead actors Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot is palpable. It’s not a conventional love story by a long stretch, but the music animates this Iron Curtain can’t live with him, can’t live without him tale and I highly recommend it.

Mainstream Chick also saw it at Middleburg. And here’s what she had to say: Another black and white film inspired by its director’s own family experiences! This one is Poland’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film and it won Pawel Pawlikowski the best director award at Cannes. Cold War is a sometimes bleak, sometimes bittersweet melodrama set in 1950s Poland. It’s about a star-crossed couple who can’t seem to live with each other, or without each other, amid the ruins of post-war Poland. Their epic romance is undermined by politics, character flaws, and a series of unfortunate twists of fate that follow them across Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris. Music plays a significant role in the film, seamlessly integrating Polish folk music, Parisian jazz, and some early Rock and Roll. It feels a bit like watching a classic old film, with subtitles and an ending that is either a total downer or a fitting end to a potent love story, depending on your point of view. I wasn’t particular enamored with the ending. But overall, Cold War was definitely engaging, thanks in large part to the music and the chemistry.

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