Review: Make Love and War: Cold War

5 December 2018

There’s a breathtaking shot in Pawal Pawlikowsky’s Cold War where Zula (Joanna Kulig), the film’s heroine, has fought (not for the first or last time) with her lover Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), and has thrown herself into a river. She floats with the current, singing to herself, and the camera lingers on these pseudo-Ophelia moment. Cold War is filled with gorgeous shots like this, ones you want to frame and hang above your bed, or at least make your Twitter header.

The film centres on the fractious relationship between Wiktor and Zula, following some twenty years of their lives as they navigate both the political turmoil of mid 19th century Europe and the complex whims of their own hearts. Filmed entirely in greyscale, the love story takes on the drama and magnitude of a golden age classic.

Zula and Wiktor meet as Zula auditions for the performance group for which Wiktor is the music director. The cultural dances and songs the group performs, it quickly becomes clear, are Stalinist propaganda pieces meant to inspire loyalty to the newly communist nation and its leader. Over the next twenty years, their lives take them in parallel and perpendicular directions, reuniting and abandoning one and other in bars and bedrooms across the continent – their love, as much as the political climate, is a war filled with ceasefires and D-Days.

For a Polish iron-curtain period film shot in black and white, this film is remarkably accessible. Its breezy 88-minute runtime surely contributes – while the film’s pace is leisurely, it never feels belaboured.

The film’s soundtrack mirrors the changes Zula and Wiktor find themselves caught up in – the naïve poignancy and bombast of European folk music gives way to the sultriness of jazz and the raucousness rock music. Zula and Wiktor are bound by the music they create together, each piece adding texture to the complex relationship which Pawlikowski loving frames in academy 4:3 aspect ratio.

The film ends in an oblique and slightly unsatisfying decrescendo that seems completely fitting, an aching farewell to the film designed to linger in the subconscious long after it ends. Despite its love-focussed plot, I think even the least romantic soul should see this film: it’s one of the most honest depictions of love I’ve seen on film, and one of the most beautiful.


Cold War is in cinemas now. 

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