A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, the film depicts an impossible love story in impossible times.

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski (story), Pawel Pawlikowski (screenplay)
Stars: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc

Subtitled in English


Cold War is a love story.

However, it’s a love story set across physical and emotional landscapes that do not lend themselves easily to the passions and obsessions of the human players.

Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is a musical director and musician touring the snow-covered Polish countryside in the years immediately after World War II, looking for songs and music to maybe incorporate in a show. Next to him, the quiet and watchful Irena (Agata Kulesza) records and observes. A government functionary, with some ill-defined but sinister purpose shadows the pair everywhere, making his own recordings, hinting at strife to come.

When the beautiful and soulful Zula (Joanna Kulig) strides into Wiktor’s orbit, he is immediately smitten. What follows is a decade-long ricochet across Europe, as the star-crossed pair try to find a city and a place within themselves where they might be able to pause and allow their affair to grow.

I loved this film and these people. I loved their insecurities, uncertainties, passions and the way that music is a constant companion and guiding force in their lives. The soundtrack in Cold War is not in the background to be merely heard. Music is pushed to the front of the film, to be listened to and travelled with.

While Zula contemplates Wiktor after a brief but telling argument, Billie Holiday’s The Man I Love is on the radio. The pair fall in love – incontrovertibly – to Louis Jordan’s Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby. Most film-makers struggle for one perfect on-screen moment in their careers. Pawel Pawlikowski delivers a good handful in every film.

Pawlikowski’s decision to shoot in black-and-white, and 1.37.1 ratio (Academy Ratio) explicitly evokes the best of 1930s cinema (which was all that could be seen in 1940s Poland), while also allowing Pawlikowski to push his contrasts of light and dark into places that would look ludicrous in colour. There is plenty of justification for this hyper-realist approach, beyond the sheer gorgeousness of what Pawlikowski is getting onto the screen. Anyone who has seen his 2013 Ida will understand.

Cold War is an evocation of love, music, passion and heartbreak set against ice, rubble and fear. It is a lean and perfect gem.

– Graeme Tuckett, Stuff