Pawel Pawlikowski, the director of the Oscar-winning Polish film Ida from 2013, earned a Best Director nomination at this year's Academy Awards for this elegiac romance set in the Poland of the 1950s. The film is also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and for its beautiful black-and-white cinematography.
The story revolves around the love affair between Zula (Joanna Kulig), a young and spirited Polish singer, and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a melancholic musician, conductor and music researcher. They meet in the countryside, where Zula has grown up, when Wiktor is among a team of researchers capturing authentic Polish folk musicians and singers. Zula sees an opportunity and displays an instinctive vocal talent. (The opening scenes may remind you of the Appalachian-set Songcatcher.)
As their relationship develops, Zula and Wiktor also become pawns of the Communist government, which sends them into the West to show the world the richness of Polish culture. In Paris it becomes clear that Wiktor wants to escape the desolation of post-war Poland, but Zula resists.
The movie's most memorable sequence is the lovers' time together in the jazz-infused cafes of 1950s Paris, all gorgeously recreated, particularly the music. But to say anything about what happens after that would be to spoil the filmmaker's vision of how art, destiny, politics, love and despair intertwine.
While the film retains its focus throughout on the central couple, Pawilkowski (who wrote the original story and co-wrote the screenplay) is also making metaphoric comment on the history of his nation under Communism.
Pawilkowski’s direction is indeed lyrical and captivating, but the movie is a far different experience than either Ida or Roma, the other memory movies shot in black and white to which Cold War begs comparison. While Roma is a love letter to a wounded Mexico, Cold War is a more fraught effort, born more of pain than of nostalgia.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Starts Feb. 1 at the Fine Arts Theatre.
Join the Asheville Movie Guys for a hosted screening at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4. Learn more on the Asheville Movie Guys’ Facebook page.
(Photos: Amazon Studios)