Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

In Review: Cold War

Director: Paweł Pawlikowski


Highly Recommended

Even when directing a romantic post-war epic, it’s pleasing that director Paweł Pawlikowski has stuck to his usual 80 - 85 minute running time; this story doesn’t need to be stretched over an unnecessary length to achieve what many other directors attempt but fail to capture. He manages to do it here with a sharp precision and was justly awarded the Best Director gong at Cannes for his work. 

Based on the story of his parents’ love affair, Pawlikowski takes us to Poland in 1949, where Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is holding auditions for his singing and dancing troupe. Their aim is to showcase the power of post-war Eastern Europe through propagandist music. It’s here that he meets who he will later earnestly describe as ‘the love of my life’. It’s no surprise then that, after directing Joanna Kulig in 2013’s Academy Award-winning Ida, Pawlikowski has used her astonishing talents as an actress again to portray Zula, a fiery and alluring woman who has Wiktor enraptured from her first audition. She’s rough and unpolished but undoubtedly magnetic. ‘She has energy and spirit. She’s original!’ he remarks.

From here, the two begin on what feels like an epic love affair. And, what makes this film so fascinating is that the backdrop is everything and nothing: as their lives move forward over more than a decade, they are separated and brought together by the political climate that surrounds them. Their love, however, seems to be from a different time altogether. 

The film is wonderfully acted by the two leads. They have an old-fashioned quality to their performances and are utterly convincing as a pair that is destined to find each other again and again. As musicians and singers, their performances have range and depth - sometimes dark and brooding and at others joyous and uplifting. During one scene in a Parisian nightclub, Zula dances drunkenly to Bill Haley’s ’Rock Around The Clock’ - she is a beautiful mess, and no one can take their eyes from her. 

Added to this, the acting is enhanced by the wonderful work of cinematographer Łukasz Żal, who has shot the film in black and white using 4 x 3 Academy ratio, giving a greater sense of scope and timelessness.

It’s a delight to watch and a lesson that, when done with such fine artistry as this, an epic romance can be written, arranged and ardently performed in under an hour and a half. TS