Like Roma, Cold War is a deeply personal film for its director, Pawel Pawlikowski. Cold War tells the somewhat tragic romantic tale of musicians Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). The two lovers long romance spans across many years and across post-war Europe.
Pawlikowski was born in Warsaw under Communist rule at the height of the cold war. He loosely based Zula and Wiktor’s story on that of his own parents. In an interview with Vox, Pawlikowski stated his inspiration for the film, ”It’s very much to do with my parents — the world they lived in that kind of shaped them, tripped them up. But it’s also about two people who are very strong individuals, and very attractive.”
Despite the film being in Polish, the language of love is universal. Something that we can all relate to in some form or another. The concept of love trying to defeat a stronger force of hate is a story that has always been around in part of culture. And Cold War is a retelling of the star-crossed lovers doomed to remain apart from each other.
Pawlikowski manages to keep this story from falling into the realms of clichés and melodrama. Which reflects his understanding of pacing, structure and character development. The character of Zula is more than simply being a romantic interest. She is a fully three-dimensional character, who has a background and her own inner struggles. Pawlikowski manages to bring out a very moving performance from Kulig, as well as a very strong turn from Kot.
The real story of these two characters exist outside of the scenes that we are granted access to. As explained by Pawlikowski, ”In the black “holes” of the film between the scenes, when they’re absent from each other — of course this is where the real love occurs. You love this absent object. You kind of build them up into something incredible, which inevitably lets you down.”
Pawlikowski expects his viewer to come to their own conclusion about what events have taken place in these characters’ very separate lives. And as a result, there is a level of respect between auteur and the viewer, that is a rare thing nowadays.
Pawlikowski acknowledges the concept of time and memory, and how actions often speak louder than words. The film has many long scenes of silence, or music, where we are simply lost in the film’s cinematography and mise-en-scene.
As a director, Pawlikowski appreciates the language of film and the history of filmmaking, referencing the early days of silent cinema. Pawlikowski also shows a passion for the concept of art in general. Cold War is very much a film which is not only about the love between two people, but the love for art, music and culture.
Cold War is shot in near perfect black and white photography, so strikingly beautiful that it is hard not to be moved. The decision for this has meaning to Pawlikowski. He mentioned in an interview with the Guardian that part of his motivation was to bring to life the family photograph albums that he carries with him.
For Pawlikowski, who left Poland at the age of 14, he has always been drawn to the world of black and white. “I was separated from that black and white world, so I guess I have wanted to return to it.”
Some have criticised Cold War for seeming too cold and clinical in its approach to dealing with romance. But perhaps they are taken aback at how honest and truthful it is in its depiction of romance. Love is complicated, and messy. Pawlikowski doesn’t try to sugarcoat this fact, and as a result this sets him apart from so many directors working today.
Pawlikowski’s chances of winning the Oscar are actually fairly favourable. He has previously won an Academy award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015 for Ida. He also won Best Director at Cannes last year for Cold War. As much as I adore Roma, Alfonso Cuarón has already won the Academy Award for Best Director in 2013 for Gravity. Surely it’s only fair that the award goes to another auteur, who gave us another timeless classic drama about love, and an appreciation of the art of film.