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VIFF 2018 – Cold War

The 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival is underway and we’re sending writers out to enjoy it.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks, as they share their thoughts about this year’s films.

Cold War
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski

In Cold War, the tragically complex is masterly woven with the beautifully simple. Director Pawel Pawlikowski is known for his ability to create visually captivating films, and Cold War is no exception. Pawlikowski has chosen a 4:3 aspect ratio to frame gorgeous black and white scenes, a format he used for his previous film Ida, for which he won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. As for Cold War, the simplistic medium allows the focus to be solely on the relationship between Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), even though the film takes on a vast scope. Their story spans across historical periods, borders, and culture while still maintaining the spotlight on their uniquely troubled relationship. The landscape the couple navigates is equally intriguing and vast, but the exceptional framing and depth of field focus the audience into the purpose of the film: a character study.

Joanna Kulig’s multitalented and multifaceted portrayal of an erratic vocalist is by all means captivating.

While visually stunning, the heart of the film is in its audio. This comes in the form of a poignant soundtrack led by the couple together and apart. As the story progresses so does their music, in the case of Zula by transforming from Polish folk to French jazz. How the relationship transforms between the couple is mirrored with the use of music. The many languages and styles make the performance an ambitious feat to pull off. Thankfully Joanna Kulig’s multitalented and multifaceted portrayal of an erratic vocalist is by all means captivating, at times making up for the lacking dialogue.

By the third act, the increase in pacing and plot twists are met with even less intimate dialogue between Zula and Wiktor, leaving the viewer to fill in the holes in their lives to make sense of it all. While it is undeniably intentional that Pawlikowski enjoys a ‘less is more’ approach, I was left waiting for their relationship to be flushed out. For a character-driven story, I felt there was so much potential to dive deeper into their personal lives through the middle of the film. What pushed these people to sacrifice so much for each other when they were apart, only to be increasingly destructive when they are together?

In the end, the viewer is left unable to comprehend for certain exactly how Zula and Wiktor have gotten to where they are, a feeling that one can’t help but feel is intentionally brought on by Pawlikowski, as the characters themselves seem to experience it in the final scenes as they numbly wander. To say this film is anything but spectacular would be an injustice. Cold war is a magnificently shot, haunting anti-romance that is just inches short of being a masterpiece.