After a five year break Pawel Pawlikowski returns with Cold War (2018) it follows Ida (2013) (see my earlier review of this) and it continues to showcase Pawlikowski as a filmmaker to watch for. It is easy to say this is Romeo and Juliet, but, it sort of is.
Set after the Second World War, Poland is under communist rule and trying to rebuild itself. The Polish authorities see folk music as a way of keeping their tradition alive and ask a team including music director Wiktor to find singers and dancers. Interestingly when the team search for tradition music styles one of them remarks that a certain song is in Lemko language which is a shame – this is a country divided in its own identity and still coming to terms to with what it is and what it wants to be.
There is a X Factor style audition where Wiktor spots Zula. He is immediately captivated by her (and she with him), and he chooses her to be his singer. She is then trained and developed. Wiktor and Zula grow closer together and eventually they fall for each other.
But there is more to Zula, she has a criminal record for attempted murder of her father and has been released on probation to take part in the singing. There is a exquisite scene near the river where Zula admits that she has been asked to spy on Wiktor. What follows is a something out of a dream. Pawlikowski does not does explain what has been said between the two, all we see is the aftermath.
The group are then sent to tour the music to other countries, it is in Berlin when Wiktor decides they need to leave for Paris and asks Zula to meet him at an outpost, it is there they both make a decision that leaves a lasting mark.
The story then switches to several years later when the two meet in Paris, where Wiktor is still performing and Zula meets him in a cafe. The love reignites between them but they are in relationships with other people, Wiktor persuades Zula to stay over for a while and they begin their affair, but it doesn’t last and she eventually leaves.
The pairs paths cross again over the years, until one meeting Wiktor learns Zula has married. She says she has done it for them, as she can now escape and travel freely. They continue to see each other, but, after a late night party and a fit of jealousy Zula leaves. Wiktor is completely lost and tries to find her, he eventually does the unthinkable, he hands himself into the authorities so he can go back to Poland to see her, he ends up in prison. But Zula finds him and they reconcile, she plans to help him escape.
The cinematography is amazing and Pawlikowski again has shot this in black and white which works. The music is great too. I am not surprised it was nominated for a number of awards, but, there is a but, I did feel like I have sort of seen this story before. Nevertheless Pavel has reinvented the love story and it is still worth catching, just for the river scenes.