Cold War seemed to be an unknown at this year’s Oscars Ceremony, coming out of nowhere with 3 nominations, including cinematography and directing. Director Pawe? Pawlikowski, has already found critical acclaim with other works such as Ida, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Award at the 2015 Academy Awards. The fact that Cold War has stayed off most people’s radar, though, seems like a sin when finally viewed.
The plot, a destructive and doomed love story between a young singer and music director told over the span of almost 2 decades, is set against the backdrop of communist Poland. Such a bleak concept is successful because of the performances by Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig as the film’s leads. With so many odds against the couple, you cannot help but wonder why one should root for them in the first place. Then all is answered when they share a scene, when they embrace or look into each other’s eyes, and you believe that their love can conquer anything.
The film contains some of the most compelling and purposeful cinematography I have seen. Shot entirely in a crisp black and white, Cold War feels like a relic of the past in a beautiful way, transporting you to 1950’s Poland and Paris. Shots and camera movements are used to make discoveries. As Wiktor, played by Tomasz Kot, lies down in his rundown Paris apartment, the camera reveals a woman lying next to him, informing the audience that he has a new lover. The film’s 4:3 aspect ratio gives a claustrophobic effect, as characters appear to have nowhere to go in each frame, much like the way Wiktor and Zula cannot seem to escape each other.
What might be most compelling about Cold War is its ability to balance its romance and joy with the turmoil and tension of growing communism in 20th century Europe. It is not easy to escape, as the audience watches two people fall in love, darkness is looming, watching, waiting to ruin it.