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TIFF 2018 Review: Cold War

Shot in an aching black-and-white, and punctuated every so often with still black pauses, Cold War is a mesmerizing exploration of love and disappointment, of persistence and giving-up.

1949, somewhere in Poland. Outside, the long winter begins to take root as a musician and a producer travel between remote villages with recording equipment in hand, listening, earnestly, to the folk songs there performed, and recruiting, patiently, the fresh-faced young talent who sing them. The musician is called Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and the producer, Irena (Agata Kulesza). The two are auditioning rural youth to perform in a troupe trained in traditional Polish song and dance. At one such audition, Wiktor’s eye is caught by an auditionee: the blonde and mysterious Zula (Joanna Kulig). And they fall in love.

1969, somewhere in Poland. Wiktor and Zula, aged and tired, gather in a dilapidated chapel after years of drifting apart and coming back together to be married.

Distilling a period of twenty years into 90 short minutes, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War (2018) — his follow-up to the Oscar-winning Ida (2014) — is an elliptical story about two persons deeply in love who want to be together and cannot, and who, despite the passage of time and their passage from from place to place, never really stop thinking of one another, not even for a moment.  Shot in an aching black-and-white, and punctuated every so often with still black pauses, Cold War is a mesmerizing exploration of love and disappointment, of persistence and giving-up.

The film is so unbearably lovely. The soundtrack, too, is special. Yet what strikes me about Cold War is its sense of democracy. By punctuating his film with pauses, and by omitting what exactly occurs between Wiktor and Zula during the years left undocumented, Pawlikowski forces his viewers to actively engage with the drama by filling these gaps as they see fit. Some might hope Wiktor and Zula maintained consistent contact. Some might hope otherwise. Regardless, what results is a sense of proximity with these characters whom we are, by design, meant to feel separate from. And I think that that is quite special.

4.5
Jonathan Dick

Jonathan Dick is a playwright currently studying at the University of Toronto. He likes Wong Kar Wai, Kristen Stewart, and purple yam ice cream.