This Oscar-nominated tale of star-crossed lovers deserves attention

Film Review | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Cold War
Roxy, Rainbow

Opens February 22
4 out of 5

The very last movie I saw at TIFF ’11 was a feminist NC-17 curiosity starring Juliette Binoche called Elles. It was preachy, titillating and didn’t have anything new to say about the world’s oldest profession.

But one performance stayed with me: by a beautiful Polish actress who gave Binoche a run for her money. Her name was Joanna Kulig.

Kulig popped up again in a couple of forgettable American films and Polish features that seldom made it across the Atlantic. In the dense romantic drama Cold War, director Pavel Pawlikowski (Ida) gives her the showcase she’s deserved.

In a brisk 89 minutes, Cold War tells the story of Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Kulig), a music director and a singer who fall in love in 1950’s Poland. Both are up-and-comers — by communist standards­ — but Wiktor is considering making a run for the West to pursue creative freedom. Zula isn’t sold on his plan, and the disagreement leads to the end of their relationship.

In most movies that would be the end of it, but Cold War revisits the pair over the following years, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Wiktor and Zula are prickly pears but their passion for one other is immense. Neither lives a full life, but they refuse to give up or compromise.

Despite the Academy’s recent ineptitude (such as producing an Oscar show catering to people who don’t like the Oscars), Cold War’s three nominations — direction, cinematography and foreign film — accurately reflect its merit. The dialogue is fascinating and the luscious black-and-white camera work complements it perfectly. And the framing! Oh, the framing!

Cold War is inspired by Pawlikowski’s own parents’ relationship so when the movie seems to judge the pair, it comes from a place of mercy. The ending might feel like a cheap shot, but the clues are all there if you’re paying attention — especially if you’re familiar with Pawlikowski’s previous movies. His thing is utter emotional devastation.